2016 Dialog Practice Fishbowl Instructions

2016 Dialog Practice Fishbowl Instructions


Circling the Wagons Dialog Practice Fishbowls are intended to be spaces where LGBTQ & SSA Mormons of diverse opinions can authentically express their personal feelings without rejection, retaliation or exclusion. In order to achieve constructive environments, workshop facilitators and attendees are asked to follow Circles of Empathy Guidelines, which will be printed in the conference programs for all participants to refer to during the workshops:

  • No one is required to share and no one should be called on to share without having first indicated the desire to share. (This also means do not take turns or go around the circle giving answers since this could make someone feel obligated to share.)
  • Share only with “I” statements and only from your own experience, avoiding generalized statements like “we all know…” or “everyone tends to…” (avoid replacing the word “I” with the word “you”)
  • Assume good faith in one another, giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
  • Empathize with one another by intentionally being curious and asking open and honest follow-up questions to better understand. (Only ask follow-up questions of someone who has already shared.)
  • Do not share anything said by others in the Circle with anyone outside the Circle.
  • Do not try to fix, save, persuade, debate, teach, counsel, challenge or change others.


  1. THEME: review your assigned theme or propose a new one.
  2. FORMAT: familiarize yourself with the format (below), prepare to describe a brief summary of it.
  3. QUESTIONS: browse Circles of Empathy’s seven fundamental questions.
    • Note questions to elicit dialog relevant to your theme or topic, and adjust or add as needed.
    • Keep questions open-ended, allowing for diverse answers.
    • Avoid loaded or leading questions, such as “When did you realize it was right to _____?”
  4. PRIMERS & CONTEXT: determine what info. about your theme may help establish a basis for dialog.
    • e.g. vocabulary, very brief history, especially relevant current events
    • Investigate possible conflicts that may present opportunities or challenges to conversation.
    • Explore constructive dialog skills & sensitive approaches to such conflicts.
    • Facilitators have an opportunity to help mitigate or prevent unnecessary breakdowns of dialog through proactive preparedness.
  5. CO-FACILITATORS: if possible, meet with any co-facilitator(s) to build rapport & determine who will:
    • introduce the theme,
    • review the Circles of Empathy guidelines,
    • offer the contextual primer,
    • explain the format,
    • help participants set the ground rules,
    • assign participants,
    • hand out civility bells,
    • watch the clock or assign an observer to time the group, etc


  • Help build and maintain authentic, respectful, and balanced conversation.
  • Share your own perspective minimally, as appropriate to propel the conversation forward.
  • Ensure that participants do a majority of the talking.
  • Ensure that any information presented is free of agenda, only for the express purpose of establishing common ground foundation for participants and observers to meaningfully engage.
  • Ensure consideration of various viewpoints, life paths, and experiences of diverse participants.
  • Set the example by aligning speech with the Circles of Empathy Guidelines.



  1. ARRANGE THE ROOM (before session)
    • Facilitators will sit together facing a small “circle” of up to four chairs for participants.
    • All other chairs arranged in a circle or concentric circles outside of the fishbowl chairs.

  2. ORIENTATION (10 mins)
    • Introduce format (a brief summary of this outline, less than a minute)
      • Explain the difference between participants (the ones having the conversations) and observers (quietly observing and being mindful of their own reactions or choosing to step into the conversation at a rotation) and how the conversation participation will rotate.
      • Explain that group processing of the dialog may include observations about and personal response to the dialog dynamics and skills observed, while avoiding uninvited critiques of individuals.
      • If you want to have a queue of open chairs on each side for people to sit in to express their desire to enter the conversation from this or that perspective, designate and explain those.
    • Introduce vocabulary or other fundamental context needed to build the conversation (1-2 minutes)
      • In most cases, this will not get very deep and will mostly be terminology/vocabulary.
      • Avoid prematurely raising controversy. Allow conversations to naturally dig up deeper issues as they arise.
      • Encourage respect and curiosity, before confrontation, about chosen terminology or self-identification.
      • In some cases, current events will be especially relevant and should be described as neutrally, non-authoritatively, and briefly as possible.
    • Set up safety ground rules (inclusive participation, up to 5 minutes)
      • Review or draw attention to Circles of Empathy Guidelines and ask if any clarifications are needed.
      • Invite the group to volunteer whatever additional ground rules would help them feel most safe.
        • This may be anything from understanding why someone else in the room chose to be there to requiring that preferred gender pronouns be used when addressing an individual.
        • Group will discuss how much they can accommodate each other’s safety requirements or ground rules.
        • If some requirements cannot be satisfied, gently offer a sincerely judgment-free opportunity for anyone who may not feel safe to withdraw.
      • Write the group’s ground rules and safety standards on a board where everyone can see them
    • Request volunteer participants for the fishbowl, and/or invite pre-selected fishbowl volunteers to state their name. (1-2 minutes)
      • NO ROUND TABLE INTRODUCTIONS: let participants introduce themselves as much or as little as they are comfortable through the natural course of conversation. Let the questions they ask each other about their background, perspective, motives, etc, illustrate how people engage with one another and begin to understand one another.
      • Be mindful of whether people from one or another camp or side are volunteering to participate less.
        • Consider inviting a group discussion about whether that’s the case and why that might be.
        • Keep participation voluntary even if it means having a conversation that is less balanced for a time or if it means someone doesn’t get rotated out by new participants.
        • Strive to keep imbalance constructive in a way that assures observers from a distinct viewpoint that they will be heard and valued if they enter the conversation.
        • This may mean a facilitator becomes more involved if their own “side” is less represented in the fishbowl.
    • Explain and assign civility bell ringers (1 minute)
      • Explain how civility bells work: a bell ringer will ding the bell if someone from only their own camp or side violates a safety ground rule or Circles of Empathy guideline. This should be rare if it occurs at all, but if it does, facilitators will pause the conversation to ask what the bell ring was for and invite a constructive, brief resolution or request the participant rephrase.
      • You might choose bell ringers by asking observers to raise their hands if they find themselves identifying more with participants of each “side”.

  3. FISHBOWL CONVERSATION, part 1 (20 mins)
    • Start the conversation however you see fit.
      • e.g. Ask the participants to simply introduce themselves to each other and go from there.
      • e.g. Pose Circles of Empathy fundamental questions relevant to the theme.
    • Preferably rotate participants one at a time at set time marks (e.g. every 5 minutes) or as they voluntarily withdraw.
    • Balance freshly introduced perspectives and personalities with continuity.
    • Keep conversation propelling forward.
    • If civility bell is rung, pause, ask why, find a resolution or rephrase, then resume.
    • When a new participant enters, facilitators are responsible for smoothing their transition in if needed.

  4. PROCESS, part 1 (10 mins)
    • Encourage sensitivity to the potential vulnerability of participants whose dialog skills are being opened to potential critique.
    • Begin by asking participants about their experiences and feelings.
    • Bring in observer thoughts/reactions/feelings/ideas.
    • Keep the focus on the dialog dynamics and skills, especially the takeaways from the preceding Dialog Skills Training Workshop.
    • Discuss both successes and pitfalls found.
    • Some discussion of content might be appropriate as well.

  5. FISHBOWL CONVERSATION, part 2 (20 mins)
    • Continue where the conversation left off or take audience feedback to move in another direction.
    • Previous or new participants. Up to you.

  6. PROCESS, part 2 (10 mins)
    • Bring the workshop to some resolution, even if that is a humble admission that sometimes these conversations are really, really challenging and full of pitfalls we may not have foreseen: all the more reason to keep improving our approaches and being sensitive to how our approach affects others.
    • Encourage group to note anything they’d like to bring up in the final Dialog Skills Training Workshop.
    • Thank everyone for their various kinds of participation.