Sharing HERspective: Embracing the transformative power of constructive dialogue

Recent training session leaves a lasting impact on Sweet Briar student Bivushi Timilsina ’27.

Posted on October 30, 2023 by Bivushi Timilsina ’27

On October 19, Professor Tracy Hamilton, fellow student Maria McCoy ’25 and I had the privilege of attending the transformative constructive dialogue session “Fostering Dialogue Skills” held during the Democracy360 conference at the University of Virginia. This training, offered by the Constructive Dialogue Institute, left a lasting impact on my understanding of the significance of open and constructive communication. This experience was not just about personal growth; it shed light on the vital role dialogue plays in fostering a harmonious environment in diverse communities.

The event brought together students and faculty members, transcending generational boundaries and reminding us that the power of conversation knows no age. We began with a simple but revealing exercise to describe our day in just six words. Mine was light-hearted: “I had so many donuts today.” The mention of donuts might seem trivial, but Sweet Briar students definitely know the perfect donuts that we get for breakfast every Thursday morning.

As the session progressed, we delved into the core concept of constructive dialogue. They defined this as a conversation where individuals with differing perspectives engage in dialogue to understand one another without compromising their beliefs. This concept struck a chord with me. It emphasized the importance of empathy and the necessity of finding common ground, allowing us to coexist, learn, and work together effectively. It became clear that this form of dialogue is not just a valuable skill; it’s a fundamental tool for successful human interaction.

The session introduced five fundamental principles of constructive dialogue, emphasizing the importance of shifting away from a “winning” mindset to prioritize understanding and cooperation. It stressed the value of curiosity and active listening, highlighting that asking questions and making oneself and others feel heard are key to fostering productive conversations. It underscored personal storytelling to humanize participants, bridging gaps of understanding and nurturing empathy. We also recognized how identifying common ground was a foundational aspect of constructive dialogue, enabling the building of connections and resolution of differences.

The practical application of these principles was a central component of the session, as participants engaged in interactive activities and games. These activities provided a hands-on understanding of the importance of constructive dialogue in our daily lives. The exploration of the six moral foundations of constructive dialogue, encompassing values like fairness, loyalty, and authority, furnished a framework for comprehending the diverse ethical perspectives that shape our beliefs and interactions. One particularly impactful exercise was the “complaint game,” which showcased the transformative power of empathetic listening as we observed seemingly trivial disagreements resolved through open, constructive dialogue.

Bivushi Timilsina '27 Bivushi Timilsina ’27

The constructive dialogue session was more than just an event; it was a transformative journey. It opened my eyes to the immense value of effective communication, empathy, and understanding in our interconnected world. Constructive dialogue is not merely a skill to acquire; it is a mindset that can bring about positive change in our communities, our workplaces, and our daily lives. It is the bridge that allows us to coexist and thrive in a diverse and ever-evolving world.

I am deeply grateful to Professor Tracy Hamilton, whose support made this enlightening experience possible. Her commitment to nurturing a culture of constructive dialogue and her dedication to sharing this knowledge with students and faculty members are commendable. Professor Hamilton’s influence and support were truly invaluable, and I am grateful for the opportunity she provided for us to explore the importance of constructive dialogue in our lives.

Sharing HERspective is a new column that allows students to share reflections on their lives and activities while attending Sweet Briar College. We invite all SBC students to submit articles for consideration at