Civil Discourse Training through Public Deliberation Workshops

Civil Discourse Training through Public Deliberation Workshops

Last week, in Training Law Students to Respectfully Engage One Another, I shared a new addition to our extended orientation program for entering students. In the second week of law school, our students participate in a Public Deliberation Workshop to teach better methods for engaging in conversations in law school and beyond. In this post, I want to share some of the feedback from our students through surveys conducted after the workshops.

On the survey, students were asked, “What, if anything, might you do differently as a result of this forum?” I grouped the representative quotes into the following categories of “themes” I saw in the responses:

Listening skills:

  • “Listen to understand rather than listen to be understood.”
  • “Be sure to listen and not just wait to respond.”
  • “Seek to listen fully before speaking; ask more questions.”
  • “I will now listen to others with more intent.”

More sensitivity to others’ perspectives and different life experiences:

  • “I have a new perspective now for understanding others’ opinions.”
  • “I can now see perspectives I didn’t previously consider.”
  • “Be more aware of how big of a problem it is, even though it may not be personally a problem of my everyday life.”
  • “I will deliberate on sensitive topics differently, attempting to listen better.”

Less judgmental and more respectful:

  • “I hope to be more open to listening and responding positively instead of looking for areas of disagreement.”
  • “Really work on “learning” someone instead of judging them.”
  • “I think I will treat opinions with more respect in general.”

More Open-minded:

  • “I’ll try to be respectful and allow others to speak and listen with an open mind.”
  • “I came into the discussion ready to defend an option and my answer, but I came out understanding the other options better.”
  • “Now, I will be more open-minded to solutions that don’t immediately appeal to me.”

Application of skill beyond law school:

  • “I will bring skills learned in this forum to my personal life to communicate with my family better.”

The workshop facilitators guide the participants through a conversation about three possible approaches to the issue. When students were asked, “Are you thinking differently about this issue now that you have participated in the forum,” they responded with answers such as:

  • “Yes, I had little knowledge on the subject, and hearing different experiences changed my perspective on the topic.”
  • “Hearing about others’ perspectives shifted my perspective from starting strongly in Option 3 and shifting more towards Option 1.”
  • “Yes, I am thankful for the opportunity to hear the opinions of others without trying to squash someone’s opinion before we can fully understand the topic.”

We are encouraged by the responses, and we hope these Public Deliberation Workshops will result in students listening more earnestly and respectfully to others with different life experiences and viewpoints. The goal is to help participants find shared values and build a community that can lead to innovative problem-solving together. What a difference we can make if law students enter the profession with this approach to building relationships in their organizations and communities.



Training law students to respectfully engage one another

I write to tell you about a fun and valuable experience we added to our orientation program for all our entering classes. Beginning with the Fall 2022 quarter, we introduce each entering Baylor Law student to a model for civil discourse through a workshop developed in partnership with Baylor University’s Public Deliberation Initiative. We conducted this workshop for our Summer 2023 entering class earlier this week. You may still be in spring finals, but we just started the second week of our summer term!

Through these Public Deliberation Workshops, we encourage students to adopt a better way to engage in conversations with one another in law school. This skill also can be used in the future as they represent clients or causes.

Public Deliberation training encourages participants to earnestly and respectfully listen to others with different life experiences and viewpoints. The goal is NOT to change others’ minds on the issue at hand; instead, we want students to find shared values and build community that can lead to innovative problem-solving. We desire to help our students embody professionalism, model civility, and advocate more effectively. This approach also can create a culture of respect for colleagues with different backgrounds and perspectives that will enrich our classrooms and programs, support our efforts for student well-being, and better equip our students to be difference-makers in society.

Second- or third-year law students serve as workshop facilitators during the sessions. Trained to be public deliberation facilitators during our Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) course, they keep the workshop participants on task while remaining neutral. After training and participation, the law student facilitators receive certificates as public deliberation facilitators. For more information on the program, please see my most recent post on the Professional Identity Formation Blog, titled Training Law Students to Converse Respectfully: Public Disclosure Workshop. You are also invited to contact me. I am happy to help you consider how to offer a similar training at your law school or organization.