Using the barometer set-up with the poles of Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree, find pairs with different opinions and an observer for each pair.
Barometer method: Determine two poles in the room: for instance, one wall can stand for one pole – strong agreement with a statement – and the opposite wall for strong disagreement with the statement. When the trainer reads a statement, the participants stand along the barometer, their places reflecting their agreement or disagreement (all positions between the two poles may be taken up).
- Suggested statements for the barometer:
- Every people has the right to secede.
- The Serbs started the war.
- If it had been up to the people, there would never have been a war.
- Homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children.
- The end justifies the means.
- Feminism harms the family.
Once the participants split into pairs, each pair is assigned an observer and tasked to discuss the topic of the barometer for ten minutes, using controlled dialogue. Controlled dialogue is when person A expresses their position and then person B paraphrases person A’s position until person A confirms the paraphrase. Then, person B expresses their position and person A paraphrases it.
Observers are instructed to monitor the course of the discussion: Were there interruptions? Was someone cut off? What was the body language like? How much listening was done? How much respecting others? Were questions asked to clarify? Did the two people have equal time to speak? etc.
Suggested questions to evaluate the exercise:
How difficult was it to stick to the instructions? Was it easy to listen to your partner without interrupting? While your partner was speaking, were you trying to understand as best you could or were you thinking about your own arguments? Did you get the impression that your partner understood you and listened? Did you both have equal time to speak?
What did the observers notice? Was it difficult for them to only observe without participating in the conversation?
Alternative version of the exercise
Individual participants in the discussions can be given different instructions. Instead of telling them to use controlled dialogue, they could be told:
- Do as you see fit.
- Win the debate.
- Convince your partner that your opinion is right.
In that case, the evaluation of the exercise can compare the course of the discussion in pairs using controlled dialogue and those with special instructions.
* Inspired by an exercise from: Dieter Lünse et al. “Zivilcourage: Anleitung zum kreativen Umgang mit Konflikten und Gewalt” in: Agenda Zeitlupe 9 (Hamburg: Arbeitsgemeinschaft freier Jugendverbände e.V, 1995), p. 96.