Living Room Conversations

December 12, 2023 allisonpierce12

Living Room Conversations is a non-profit organization dedicated to guiding political discussions between people with opposing political opinions.

Mission and Purpose

Living Room Conversations is an organization intended to reverse the polarization and divide in society by encouraging guided conversations between people with countervailing beliefs and backgrounds. More specifically, the organization aims to empower ordinary citizens to engage in respectful dialogue with those of opposing views, thus enabling individuals to garner a more significant understanding of pressing political issues with the hopes of reaching common ground. Through respectful dialogue and consideration of different political opinions, Living Room Conversations fosters more harmonious communities and empathetic individuals.

Describing the benefits of civil dialogue, founders of Living Room Conversations identified the purpose of the discussion format and creation of the organization, writing, “Besides having the time and structure to listen and reflect, specific aspects of Living Room Conversations help to counter stereotypes and enlarge our tribes. For example, it is easier to interrupt stereotypes when we encounter counter-stereotype information and have the time to process it” [1]. By providing a structured format for conversation, Living Room Conversations allows individuals to actively listen to others and share their own opinions within a safe, controlled setting. The organization offers citizens a platform and tool to not only build greater understanding but also build meaningful and mutually respectful relationships. This mission of counteracting the growing polarization from political affiliations in the United States seeks to encourage a more respectful, civil society based on intercommunal and intracommunal conversations.

The organization's name originates from the idea that living rooms are often considered a place of gathering and socializing. When a person receives an invite into someone else’s home, they generally feel respected and valued, promoting respectful conversation [2]. While the living

room is assumed to be a physical location, modern technology allows people to connect with others through virtual platforms. With these new forms of communication, Living Room Conversations can build communities of understanding and growth both in-person and online, transforming the typical definition of “living room.” 

Origins and Development

Founded in 2010, Living Room Conversations is a non-profit organization which promotes healthy dialogue and political discussion. The organization’s founders, noting the lack of civil dialogue on political problems and increasing polarization in American culture, sought to use simple, structured conversations to build empathy and understanding. The founding members believed that while disagreement is inevitable, this disagreement should not lead to hopeless divides. Instead, Living Room Conversations sought to harness these fundamental differences to empower community members to seek better solutions in difficult circumstances. Moreover, founder Joan Blades teamed up with other dialogue experts to “create a structured, intimate conversation format that would empower everyday citizens to discuss important issues with friends of differing political affiliations and backgrounds” [3]. They believed that if individuals engaged in a discussion where the intent and structure were disclosed, the dialogue would produce an atmosphere founded on respect and worthwhile transmission of ideas. Additionally, this personal, conversational format could breed new, long-lasting relationships amongst participants and encourage further discussion between dissenting individuals. By early 2011, the tested format of Living Room Conversations proved to succeed in creating more respectful, understanding dialogue surrounding controversial topics.

Following the pilot's success, Joan Blades and Amanda Kathryn Roman joined forces to form a partnership and continue to promote the mission of Living Room Conversations. They

hired an advisory board and established a website to launch Living Room Conversations, creating an accessible format for individuals, small groups, and larger organizations. The platform attracted its first notable conversation in 2013. This discussion was co-hosted by Joan Blades and Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, finding common ground on controversial issues such as criminal justice reform and the harms of capitalism. Moreover, Living Room Conversations constantly adapts and expands, introducing new topics and partnering with new organizations. Particularly, the ability to conduct Living Room Conversations through online formats as well as in-person events allows the organization to collaborate with more participants in new ways, bridging divides between people from all areas of the United States [5]. 

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

Living Room Conversations structures itself around a core team, which is composed of executive directors, administrative managers, community engagement directors, and other organizational staff. These staff members run the administrative and outreach sides of the organization, coordinating with outside organizations and events to bring the Living Room Conversations to them. Positions include Community Engagement Partner, Youth Council Leader, Social Media Manager, Belonging and Inclusion Partner, and more.[5] In addition to the core team, others are involved with the coordination of Living Room Conversations. An advisory board services the organization by guiding staff members and other partners. Champions, a unique feature of the organization's structure, are in charge of connecting Living Room Conversations with people, organizations, and events that could utilize its services.

Living Room Conversations relies on funding to conduct its work. Through the help of individual and foundation donors, the organization utilizes donations to finance its events, support its staff, and expand programming. The organization currently receives no government funding, relying primarily on donations to continue the work. For certain events hosted by Living Room Conversations and its staff, a donation is required to attend. The organization urges consultants that use their guides in their work to donate a percentage of their fee; similarly, businesses are requested to ask their finance departments to make an appropriate donation.[6] These donations allow Living Room Conversations to continue creating and distributing resources to non-profits, faith communities, schools, and other organizations in need of increased dialogue. 

Specializations, Methods and Tools


Living Room Conversations offers a multitude of services to help people engage in political discourse. They also offer a consultation option to help users find out which service best fits them. Living Room conversations continue to create custom services for users who request them and are associated with gaining political knowledge. Some of these users include The University of Miami Ohio, Boston Public Library, and UNC Pembroke among others. Some of their listed services include:

· Conversation Guide Adaptation - Users can engage in a 20-minute conversation with a staffer to figure out if the guide they have created for themselves is the best it can be. Staff will advise on what topics need the most attention and advise on talking about touchy subjects in a calm and respectful manner.

· Customized Training - Users can pick what their weaknesses are and work with staff on how to better their conversation skills and promote educational and respectful conversation.

· Program Design/Implementation Support - Staff assists in collecting data to support a conversation as well as evaluating the strength of a potential conversation program.

· Host a Conversation - Once a program is completed, a portal is opened to begin a Zoom conversation on the topics selected. Users can dictate the size of the group they wish while also having access to Living Room Conversations support and the Zoom tech helpline.

· Livestream Conversation Event - Experienced users will have the opportunity to have their conversation co-hosted by an expert. These are often broadcast to new members to show the power of the political discourse they are engaging in. These events are often planned well in advance.

The services offered build upon one another; they continue to help people prepare to have tough conversations. The world continues to be in need of a way to bring people together as we increasingly push each other apart. Undoubtedly, one of the best and most effective tools offered by Living Room Conversations is their conversation guides. Grateful Living states "They...have over 100 conversation guides based upon the current interests and needs of our users."[7] These guides provide great information for people wanting to engage in conversation at all levels. It also presents people with an opportunity to pick something they are interested in as they continue to learn.

Topic Specific Conversation Guides

All topic walkthroughs are structured in a similar format. Once a topic is selected, the topic tab will ask open-ended questions for the two conversationalists to consider. For example, on the 'Free Speech' tab, questions are asked about the difference between hate speech and bullying or the effect of technology on free speech.[8] Similarly, the 'Student Debt' tab questions participants about free tuition versus costs to taxpayers.[9] While asking these questions, all topic tabs offer a small background paragraph, introducing the topic and clarifying needed information for discussion. Since all participants may not have the same level of understanding of issues, the beginning of each topic tab allows a small introduction.

After a topic is chosen, a host will begin the online meeting to engage around four to six people in the discussion. The meeting begins with an introduction, setting the tone for the rest of the discussion. Participants get to know each other during a short introductory period. After introductions, all participants will be expected to agree to the conversation agreements. Also found on the website, the conversation agreement outlines specific standards of the discussion, encouraging participants to be curious, respectful, authentic, purposeful, and accountable.

Once the standard of conversation has been set, the discussion of the topic can begin. This part of the conversation is broken down into different rounds based on the topic. The first round is a more in-depth "get to know you" between participants. Rather than just an introduction, guests are asked to look a little deeper and explain their goals for not just the conversation but their community and the country. This section also provides time for guests to give additional background on themselves, which may explain why they hold their opinions. Clarifying what drives individuals' perspectives on the world, allows other participants to view

each other more holistically, rather than simply judging them based solely on opinions. Through this section of the conversation process, Living Room Conversations provides a guided, structured time for participants to develop trust and understanding with one another.

The largest and most important round is round two. During this section of the conversation, participants begin to get to the heart of the topic. One participant will begin by reading the introductory paragraph mentioned above to the group. From there, each participant chooses one of the offered questions to answer uninterrupted. Within each topic tab, under round two, participants will find different questions about the topic. For example, under the student debt tab, there are five questions that range from economic questions to personal experiences.[10] On the 'Free Speech' tab there are questions about engagement of free speech on social media as well as questions about political correctness.[11] The questions listed on each topic address all sides of the issue. The questions are asked in an unbiased way that allows everyone from either side of the debate to engage with the questions. After each participant has had an opportunity to answer uninterrupted, discussion can begin. Participants are allowed to ask follow-up questions or respond to different answers. Participants will also have a chance to answer or ask questions that are not listed on the topic tab within the confounds of the conversation agreement.

As questioning and discussion wrap up, round three will begin, which encourages guests to reflect on the conversation they had. This round asks participants to reflect on what common ground was found between various perspectives as well as any challenges individuals faced. Once the meeting has ended, participants are asked to give Living Room Conversations feedback about their conversation. This is also a time to exchange contacts between participants to engage in more conversations later.

These guides allow a structured conversation with specific timing. Utilizing structure and timing allows conversations to stay within a given guideline, preventing one participant from dominating the conversation. Living Room Conversations intentionally structures the conversation to encourage listening and reflection, ensuring that participants "listen five times more than they speak, and both the listening and speaking are reflective, exploratory of self and other, and encouraged by the structure and timing of the conversation to be significantly slower than ordinary engagement, whether face-to-face or online".[12] Though some participants may find it difficult to speak on charged topics or struggle to share personal opinions, Living Room Conversations provides questions that are designed to encourage guests to feel welcome in sharing their opinion. While the structure of the organization seeks to engage in online or in- person meetings with different guests, anyone is welcome to use these topic guides in any setting. For any individual hoping to engage in an emotionally charged conversation, the conversation agreement, the structured rounds, and pre-determined questions can be used to ease the awkwardness and foster better dialogue.[13] 

Major Projects and Events

Most events hosted by Living Room Conversations are facilitated discussions between groups. These conversations' format ranges based upon the specific event. Living Room Conversations hosts staff-led conversations, which are typically conducted online and open to any viewer. Example events include discussing the topic of forgiveness, introductions to Living Room Conversations and its mission, and other trainings intended to encourage thoughtful, civil dialogue.[14] Additionally, anyone can start a conversation themselves by logging into the Living Room Conversations conversation platform, Kazm. Participating hosts can create their

own conversations online for other users to join. If an organization or individual prefers to host an in-person conversation, they can utilize pre-made facilitation guides for in-person conversations among local participants.

Living Room Conversations, though run by its staff, champions, and advisory board, relies on the participation of various communities. In particular, the organization highlights many communities and community leaders on its website that contribute to events and partnerships. Faith communities regularly participate in conversations. Living Room Conversations partners with many religious denominations "to deepen relationships within their communities, address tensions, invite neighbors in and even talk to sister faith communities, both locally and in other states."[15] Participating congregations participate in regularly scheduled trainings, host dialogues with sister congregations, and discuss difficult topics in a civil, respectful way. For example, Living Room Conversations offers conversation guides specifically for faith communities, including "Faith in Politics," "Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination," and "Race and Faith Communities." At a Christian church in Boise, Idaho, a pastor hosted forty-two members of the congregation in a discussion about abortion, in which the congregation could hear various perspectives and gain insight into their community's members.

Other organizations across the country have also utilized Living Room Conversations and their facilitation guides to promote community inclusion and healthy dialogue. Particularly, policing and community relations with the police can be a difficult topic to tackle; Living Room Conversations offers guides and resources to promote successful discussions between communities with disagreements in this area. Estes Valley Restorative Justice Center in Colorado hosts monthly discussions in partnership with Living Room Conversations, in which local police officers, residents, and Restorative Justice Center members convene to learn from

one another.[16] Topics range from gun responsibility, homelessness, and other relevant issues that touch the town of Estes Park.

Schools can also utilize Living Room Conversations through a program titled Allsides for Schools. In collaboration with the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), Living Room Conversations designed a School Community Toolbox designed to lead workshops in skills such as conflict resolution, restorative facilitation, and community dialogues in schools. The program is intended to promote stronger community and constructive discussions in schools, challenging participants to engage critically and build trust with each other. Additionally, the conversations prepare students to thoughtfully participate in democratic processes and allow teachers to facilitate conversations about current events, controversial issues, and other dialogues without bias and division; Living Room Conversations advocates strongly for non-partisan engagement with such issues, stating, "Allsides for Schools helps educators have these discussions and teach essential skills in critical thinking, collaboration, listening and respectful discourse, media and digital literacy and social-emotional learning. Our unique focus on building relationships and revealing multiple viewpoints across the political spectrum avoids the potential problems with bias and disrespecting individual beliefs."[17] AllSides for Schools provides specific lesson plans, online tools, and in-class discussion devices that stimulate critical thinking, respectful dialogue, and media literacy. These resources are prepared with middle school, high school, and college ages in mind, as these students are cognitively ready to discuss controversial and political topics.

Similarly, Living Room Conversations partners with libraries across the country to implement conversational programming. Through Living Room Conversations, libraries gain access to conversation guides that can facilitate civil dialogues on relevant topics to the library's

local community. Living Room Conversations also offers training prior to facilitations, allowing library staff or volunteers to confidently deliver the facilitation of the conversations. Living Room Conversations can be an ongoing program for the library or a singular event for a topic that a facilitator would like to discuss with library patrons. In a description of the programming, the Colorado Department of Education highlighted an interview in 2023 with Living Room Conversations Libraries Partner, Annie Caplan, who described the organization's library events, stating, "Living Room Conversations helps libraries offer and support community dialogue programming, deepening the library's role as an engaging, inclusive community center. Our conversation model is designed to build understanding and bridge divides between participants. Living Room Conversations enables libraries to expand their community impact by equipping them with tools to foster relationships and connections between community members and patrons."[18]

Alongside schools and libraries, businesses and workplaces can engage with Living Room Conversations. As hybrid work models and generational expectations change, Living Room Conversations as an organization highlights the importance of communication and trust among coworkers, especially those with generational gaps. Managers and employees can also benefit from increased dialogue. The structure of Living Room Conversations in businesses is similar to libraries and schools, as the organization provides conversation guides and customizable training to engage workplace leaders in dialogue with other staff. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Living Room Conversations aims to promote healthy dialogue across divides such as political affiliations, age differences, racial backgrounds, and other factors that prevent people

from engaging in civil debates. Through guided conversations and facilitation training, the organization hopes to build understanding and trust in communities. Though the effectiveness of these measures is difficult to determine, many participants of the conversations feel like the conversations are productive and offer beneficial lessons. For example, a facilitator in Minnesota who began hosting Living Room Conversations as an organizational development consultant notes the emotional progress that may come from the dialogue, remarking, "One woman who participated in three conversations said it made her a different and better person. It's not always like that and some people have a less-than-ideal experience, but most people really enjoy it...Conflict that has a goal of connecting people more deeply is good. If you and I have a difficult conversation and we understand each other better — that's good. Conflict that is about ego and power isn't good. I think people are afraid of conflict going awry. But when there is a container for it, like a structured conversation, conflict may be present but it isn't going to swamp the conversation and break whatever tenuous threads connect us."[19] Although the conversations are not guaranteed to build trust or foster personal growth, participants are granted the structured opportunity to respectfully disagree and learn from one another, which many argue is a positive experience.

At Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Indiana, congregation members began facilitating Living Room Conversations as a space for the community to learn how to civilly debate contentious issues. Though the church's monthly meetings are viewed positively and have garnered benefits, the group admitted that the participants tend to have more liberal viewpoints, hindering the conversation from being totally balanced among all political perspectives. Due to participation in Living Room Conversations being voluntary, all viewpoints may not be represented. This lack of equal participation among diverse perspectives may present a challenge

to the missions of the conversations. Without participants with opposing political positions, the potential benefits of the discussion may be lost. 


[1] Shryack, Jessica, et al. "Chapter Four: Living Room Conversations and Identity Formation and Democracy." Building Peace in America. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020, pages 63-83.

[2] "About Us." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[3] "About Us." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[4] "About Us." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[5] "Our Team." Living Room Conversations, Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[6] "Getting Started." Living Room Conversations, Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[7] Team, T. G. L. (2023, October 31). Grateful changemakers: Living room conversations.

[8] "Free Speech." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

[9] "Student Debt." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

[10] "Student Debt." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

[11] "Free Speech." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

[12] Shryack, Jessica, et al. "Chapter Four: Living Room Conversations and Identity Formation and Democracy." Building Peace in America. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020, pages 63-83.

[13] "Free Speech." Living Room Conversations, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

[14] "Getting Started." Living Room Conversations, Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[15] "Faith Communities." Living Room Conversations, Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[16] Kearl, Becca, et al. "Toxic Polarization Is Poisoning America. Here's How You Can Help Stop It This Week." USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 Apr. 2023, polarization/11658802002/.

[17] "Allsides for Schools." Living Room Conversations, Living Room Conversations, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

[18] Moran, Christy. "Hidden Gem: Living Room Conversations." CVL: Colorado Virtual Library, Your Gateway to Library Resources and News, Colorado Department of Education, 7 Mar. 2023, conversations/.

[19] Rosenblum, Gail. "Minneapolis Consultant Sees Living Room Conversations as a Way to Rebuild Respectful Discourse." Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 23 Apr. 2021, rebuild-respectful-discourse/600049604/.