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Developing a Culture of Dialogue with The Big Table

The Big Table is a day-long event where community-led conversations take place across central Ohio. This year, The Big Table happens on Wednesday, August 28. Individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations–anyone, really!–can sit around a table, share a snack, and have a conversation about a topic important to them. What people talk about can be as broad as the Future of Columbus, or it can be as specific as how to get a skate park built in their neighborhood.   

Whatever you discuss, the goal of The Big Table is to build a stronger, more connected community. You can help accomplish that through conversation, which helps develop a culture of dialogue where all voices are valued, and open, honest conversation takes a solutions-based approach to problem-solving. Big Table conversations spark ideas and connect co-workers, friends, and neighbors because they recognize that listening to diverse opinions is the best way to ensure that all of our community members feel heard and included.   

How can you help contribute to a culture of dialogue through your Big Table conversation? It’s easier than you think. 

Step 1: Build a Common Language

The keystone of honest conversation is trust. Trust that your voice will be heard and that honesty will be delivered with kindness. Each group, whether friends, work, volunteer or other, develops a language over time. Much like the concept of “corporate culture,” this common language can develop with or without direction from a leader. 

Step 2: Include Diverse Voices

Who you bring to the table is important. In terms of solving a problem, I’m reminded of the case studies of Japanese car companies I read in college. They discussed the efficiencies achieved when front-line workers were empowered to call out problems that management-level folks would never have known about. Involving those who are affected by a problem supports creative, “user-centered” solutions that work for those experiencing that problem.

Step 3: Be Solutions Oriented

Using your common language brings purpose into focus and allows your conversations to be solutions oriented. Rather than each member of the group qualifying their thoughts or explaining where ideas come from, the group begins with a basic understanding of its own communication style. 

Naming an issue is similar to the title of the book, it’s just a starting point; the story is in the conversation about reaching a solution. Focus the conversation on finding solutions to keep it on a positive path; that common language can also help get a conversation back on track if it becomes more about lamenting problems than developing solutions. 

Following these steps will set the stage for open, productive conversations that go beyond The Big Table and help shape how your neighbors communicate with one another. The Big Table may be a day of inspiring conversations, but the real magic happens when those conversations turn into connections that last well after the event.  

This year, use The Big Table as your starting point to help create a culture of dialogue by and making time to have a conversation. On August 28, folks will gather in their schools, homes, offices, houses of worship, and hundreds of other places to have a Big Table conversation. Connections will be made, relationships will deepen, problems will be shared, and solutions will be found. Be a part of the continued evolution of your community at The Big Table on August 28!

Jul 29, 2019


Alicia Szempruch is the Scholarships Officer and Manager of The Big Table at The Columbus Foundation.