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Title Graphic:  Great Places, Great Debates Photo of Discussion in Dialogue Skills Training Session
    Dialogue Skills Training  
Photo of Tammy Boorman, Dialogue Skills trainer
Tammy Bormann has worked professionally in the field of interracial and intercultural human relations for 18 years. She began her life's work with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) in the Greater Boston regional office and then moved to New York City to accept a position as a program consultant with NCCJ's national office. In 1995, Tammy became the first woman to serve as NCCJ's Vice President for Programs, a position she subsequently left to begin her own consulting practice.

As a white woman who feels both called to and responsible for the work of social justice in the world, Tammy works with a variety of clients, including NCCJ, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cornell University, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Slave Gallery Project, the Urban Bush Women, City Lore, New York University, the Knight Foundation, New York University, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the Ford Foundation's Animating Democracy Initiative, among others. She researches, designs and facilitates learning processes that educate, challenge and support whites and people of color who seek to dismantle the oppressive institutions and social structures that threaten equality and justice for all people. She has also conducted national research on the issue of racial reconciliation and its potential in the United States. Tammy is also actively involved with the re-energized Dialogue Movement in the United States, and has been called to facilitate and teach others to facilitate effective dialogic learning processes in a variety of contexts. In this capacity, she has led visioning and planning processes for the boards and staff of several organizations including City Lore, the Myhelan Cultural Arts Center, and Muhlenberg College, among others.

In 1994, Tammy and a colleague co-founded and currently co-direct the Workplace Diversity Network, a joint project of NCCJ and Cornell University. The Workplace Diversity Network was founded on the belief that people from different work sectors and organizations have much to teach and learn from one another about creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Rather than provide traditional diversity training programs, the Network is dedicated to exploring the difficult and risky proposition of creating inclusive workplaces within an exclusive society. Under Tammy's leadership and that of her Cornell co-director, the Workplace Diversity Network has led ground-breaking participant action research in the area of structural inclusion in the workplace.

Tammy earned her Bachelor's degree in French and Communications from Muhlenberg College, where she now serves on the Board of Trustees. She earned a Master's degree in Education from the Harvard University. She uses English, French, Spanish and American Sign Language to communicate. Tammy currently chairs the Board of Directors of the Myhelan Cultural Arts Center; co-chairs the National Steering Committee of NABRE: The Network of Alliances Bridging Race and Ethnicity; serves on the Executive Committee and chairs the Campus Affairs Committee of the Muhlenberg College Board of Trustees; and chairs the Administrative Board and the Council on Ministries of Trinity United Methodist Church.


Dialogue in Learning; Dialogue is Conflict
Tammy Bormann and David Campt, independent dialogue consultants, led small groups in two separate conference sessions. These were lively workshops in which participants learned dialogue process techniques and design and explored ways dialogue can enhance and strengthen visitor experiences at historic sites. The sessions began with an explanation of what dialogue is and what can make it uncomfortable for the facilitator.

Participants learned that dialogue is the sharing through words, experiences and assumptions. Dialogue is more than a communication tool; it is a learning process. To start the dialogue process, "you need to be willing to be curious" and ask questions relevant to the people engaged in the dialogue. According to David, "in dialogue, a group of people can explore the individual and collective presuppositions, ideas, beliefs, and feelings that subtly control their interaction." The group was assured that conflict happens, but we should not be afraid of it.

Photo of Trainers for the Dialogue Skills Session
David Campt in middle and Tammy Boorman at left, dialogue skills trainers, listen intently to the dialogue amongst the session participants.

Selection of Facilitator or Facilitator's Matters
One important key to an effective dialogue is the facilitator. A facilitator must have emotional and intellectual interaction with the group, as well as competencies in building consensus -- not to have everyone agree on one issue, but to find common ground and maintain focus. Tammy and David showed how co-facilitation can bring different perspectives to a dialogue. Depending on the group, co-facilitators should be selected to reflect the range of people and issues.This is especially effective when the issue being discussed represents a social divide. Co-facilitators can resonate with the audience to balance perspectives and leadership.

Good facilitators help the participants find their words - they don't provide the actual words, but they help them find their language. The facilitator must be neutral; even if he has a perspective or opinion; it shouldn't matter for the purposes of the dialogue.Good dialogue needs to have the right people in the room to ask the right questions. The heart of good facilitation is asking really good, intentional questions.

To create a dialogue there must be preparation. The facilitator should communicate with the participants and ask key questions in order to create a safe environment for groups of people with different backgrounds.

Participants Put to Work
Tammy and David followed their brief overview of the dialogue process by leading the group through several exercises. One, an icebreaker, began with the participants talking about which historic sites had inspired them. Later in the workshop, the facilitators divided everyone into two groups for the "fishbowl" exercise. One group formed an inner circle and was instructed to recall a time when they had a dialogue around a historic site or a historic issue and to share their experiences of when dialogue fostered connection with a historic site. The second group formed a ring around the first, and served as observers as the inner circle discussed their issues. The outer circle was asked to pay specific attention to the general tenor of the group and to think about how they would intervene as a facilitator to probe an issue further.

One issue discussed in the "fishbowl" pertained to sites of African-American significance that are evaluated and defined by European-Americans during the designation of historic sites. Could one culture understand the significance of another culture? A related issue sprang up about historic buildings originally built by European-Americans, but which were infused with later histories and cultures of other ethnic groups. The concern was that this "later" history would be forgotten if the building was designated or "landmarked" for its original European-American construction or use. After the exercise, both groups provided feedback and comments to the larger group. The exercise resulted in sharing of experiences and ideas in an atmosphere of support and encouragement.

Dialogue Adds "People" Dimension to Historic Sites
Tammy and David followed the ''fishbowl' exercise by outlining the benefits of dialogue at historic sites. The benefits include adding a new, "people" dimension to a physical place and adding a new depth of understanding that relates to the future of a society/culture. Dialogue has the power to transform a place of hurt to a place of healing. Tammy and David warned of the risks, too. For example, unless the dialogue is with the immediate community or a group that has a relationship with the site, the dialogue could "unleash" issues without any control or follow-up. One should also guard against the artificial creation of dialogue just for the sake of dialogue. Historic sites are, by their nature, counter to dialogue. Many sites have been designated to tell a specific history, which can only sometimes be expanded to include other histories. But done well, dialogue can enrich the stories the historic site has to tell.

Must Know What You Want to Accomplish
Tammy and David finished by summarizing the main elements of successful dialogue. They reminded the group that when designing the dialogue, one should always keep in mind the purpose of the dialogue. You should ask yourself, "What is it that you want to achieve?" For example, the purpose for a person making a single visit to a historic site is different than the purpose for the surrounding community. The dialogue must focus on "meaning-making," e.g. helping the visitor make meaning of the site. The site may be a metaphor for other experiences; the challenge is to make a direct link or connection to the individual. Finally, there should be clarity when designing dialogue and a clear focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Tammy and David provided written guidance on dialoguing for the Great Places, Great Debate conference notebook. The materials are available below as .pdf files.

Dialogue vs. Common Communication Processes

Characteristics of Dialogue Facilitators

Designing the Arc of Dialogue

Sample Facilitation Techniques

Ten Potholes of the Mind

Summary of Dialogue Training Skills from Hope in the Cities

The National Park Service has as a part of its Community Toolbox, guidance on effective Dialogue. Dialogue is a part of a series of 48 tools that were developed by the Rivers and Trail Conservation Assistance program to help people work together in their communities to improve the quality of life.

Last Updated: October 19, 2004

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