In the OSS conversations that Stephanie has facilitated, she is struck by the commonalities between participants. “The methodology that we developed creates a space where these conversations are not only possible, but probable. They are designed to create this container of safety and trust where people feel that they can be vulnerable and speak their minds. Given the climate ‘out there,’ I’m encouraged by how well they go,” she says. “We center personal stories in the conversations; it’s not about what you believe, it’s about why you believe it.”

The conversations Stephanie facilitates begin with each partner asking the other why they wanted to participate. “It establishes positive intent, allowing them to see that the other person is there for the same reason.” They often start out nervous — afraid they’re going to get yelled at. But then they ask about their partner’s origin story: ‘Where and how did you grow up?’ “It explains so much about a person,” she notes.

Facilitator Stephanie Glaros (in white shirt) facilitates an OSS conversation at Dartmouth.

“We try to encourage people to describe their life experiences, which changes the tone, and brings the temperature down. It’s difficult for someone to be mad at the other person if you know the building blocks of their background; it shifts the energy and helps us understand the other person’s differences — and commonalities.”

As a facilitator, a big part of Stephanie’s role is managing the interaction between the two participants, watching their energy, and how it relates to the other person. “When you keep the conversation about their life experiences, it’s hard to find things to argue about. It’s the beauty of these conversations and what makes them work.”

“We create a sense of safety. It’s natural for people to initially feel discomfort at the beginning of their OSS conversation, but it’s only when people feel safe that they let their guards down. That’s my role, to create a safe space for people to open up and be vulnerable.”

“There’s also something magical about an interaction with a stranger,” adds Stephanie. “It’s a much ‘stickier’ proposition to talk about something with someone you know. With a stranger, there’s no baggage; you don’t have a history and you may not have a future with them. This allows people to go deeper in surprising ways. This is really ‘one small step’ to help people realize they’re more connected than they realized.”

“What surprises participants is that the other person is not a ‘caricature’ of the ‘other side,’ explains Stephanie. “They’re surprised when the other person is a rational, caring human being. People naturally gravitate to people who are similar to them. But, what’s most fascinating to watch is how quickly participants find their commonalities and how often each one realizes they’re not so far apart in their beliefs. We encounter nuances in the participants’ beliefs in each conversation.”

An OSS conversation is 50 minutes, and Stephanie helps manage the time the conversation partners have. “The 50-minute conversation is only the beginning, and participants are almost always shocked to realize how fast the time has gone, how deep and emotional their conversation was, and how quickly they developed a connection. Many participants exchange contact information to continue engaging with one another,” she says.

“There’s a ripple effect to the OSS conversations,” states Stephanie. “People think about how they can have a difficult conversation with others — their cousin, dad, etc. Listening to understand — instead of listening to rebut — takes practice, and OSS helps people realize it’s possible.”