Personal Skills

Robert Stains

Program Director, Public Conversations Project, Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What types of personal characteristics would behoove someone who does this kind of work? 

A: Well, you have to have a very high tolerance for ambiguity. You have to be able to live what you teach. You really have to believe in the value of respecting people who you violently disagree with, even if they don't respect you. Particularly with the work that we're doing, like when I do mediation, I'm dealing with other people's issues and helping them work out their issues. When I'm doing public conversations work, I'm dealing with people who have ideas about issues, mostly that I care about, that I have very strong opinions about. So I'm going to be on one side or the other of many of the issues that I come into contact with. I have to be prepared to encounter those people that I really disagree with and be able to respect them as deeply as I respect the people that I agree with. So that can be a real challenge making that human connection. Making the human connection, and not a once-removed professional connection. 

I think that one of the things that I see when we do training, and we have people come into our power of dialogue workshops, is when folks interview people who are playing clients, they interview them often as removed professionals who are there to gather information, and not as fellow human beings. So the capacity to be real human beings with folks, with appropriate boundaries is really important. The ability to keep your mouth shut, which I'm not exhibiting too well right now, but when I'm working I can, is really, really important. Also not necessarily facilitating, but being able to allow a process to go on. Being able to be really circumspect about your own language is of utmost importance, and that is all your language, your written language, what you say to people informally, online, when you're doing a dialogue. It is very important for people to be one top of those things. There are the professional capacities to lead a group and facilitate and so forth, but personally, I don't think those are as important. I think those things are much more easily learned than sort of the heart and spirit and stance kind of qualities that are much more difficult for people to live into than the skill sets.