By Dennis Rivers, MA
Here are some suggestions for starting a peer support network as you apply the practices in The Seven Challenges Workbook to building more effective work teams and a more nurturing family life. Please begin by reading my article: You Are Already a Communication Skills Trainer!
A preliminary list of things you are invited to do today…
1. Download and read The Seven Challenges Communication Skills Workbook . (It’s free.)
2. Try out some of the actions suggested in the Workbook .
3. Find a friend (or several) who is/are interested in learning new communication skills and plan a weekly study meeting.
4. Begin keeping a journal of your learning experiences as you explore new ways of communicating.
5. Go to a library or bookstore (or shop online) and start reading one or more of the excellent books on the Recommended Reading List .
6. Begin thinking about how you could help to create more of a climate of cooperative communication and problem-solving at work, in your family, and in your community.
7. For ongoing news and views, please visit this site often and read our Blog about communication skills learning/training/sharing.
8. Send your comments and suggestions — about the Workbook, this site and your learning experiences. Please use our Contact Form .
A preliminary list of things you are invited to do in the coming year…
1. Master the skills described in the Workbook and use them to make peace at home and on the job. The careful listening and gentle assertiveness described in the Workbook should help you get more of what you want while helping those around you get more of what they want, too!
3. Start a Seven Challenges / Cooperative Communication Skills / New Conversations Initiative (the name doesn’t matter) Study Circle of interested friends, co-workers, church members, etc., using The Seven Challenges Workbook and books from the Reading List.
4. Read several of the books on the Recommended Reading List and begin to put their suggestions into practice in your personal, work and community life.
5. Become a Seven Challenges / Cooperative Communication Skills Peer Volunteer. Give a class or lead a study group at a social service agency, adult education program, church, synagogue, mosque, youth group, young offenders program, jail or prison in your area.
6. If you are a teacher, psychotherapist or social worker, you are invited to adopt the Workbook , free of charge, as part of your professional practice. You may copy it, distribute it to clients and students, and/or use it in workshops.
7. If you are a translator and a native speaker of a language other than English, and you find that the material in the Workbook has been helpful to you, please consider volunteering to translate the Workbook and/or one of the Journals into your native language. This will allow us to add your translation to this web site and make this information available to your language community.
About Local Peer Support Groups — Reflections and Suggestions
You are invited to start your own local Peer Support Group to practice the skills described in the Seven Challenges Workbook. Such a group could be located at work, at home or as part of the public service activity of a community service organization or religious congregation.
The Support Group Network is an informal association of people who are studying the Seven Challenges Workbook, and who are helping one another and their communities in whatever ways feel life-enhancing and appropriate.
In life it is generally true that the happiness, skill and fulfillment a person gets out of an activity depends on the love, effort and attention the person puts into it. This is deeply true when it comes to learning new communication skills. One of the most powerful ways to help yourself learn is to help others learn. In practicing with, observing and coaching others you can develop a new level of awareness about what unfolds between people in conversation and in conflict. You can then use this awareness every day to guide your own communicating toward greater success, reconciliation and fulfillment.
Peer support helps people develop by focusing on three elements: the time people are capable of giving, the effort people are capable of making, and the clarity and availability of teaching materials; rather than on the money people are capable of spending and the talent or charisma of trainers. Current practices in communication training tend toward brief, expensive, seminars and high-priced professional coaching. These arrangements have two major drawbacks: They exclude many people who could benefit from exploring new ways of communicating. And they do not address the longer term needs of communication skill learners. New communication skills evolve over months and years of practice. People learning new ways of listening and speaking need:
- ongoing practice partnerships
- opportunities to grow in awareness through observing and coaching
- support for practicing new skills by belonging to an extended practice community
Peer practice groups using the freely available (via the web) the Seven Challenges Workbook represent an alternative path to communication skills learning in which everyone capable of making an effort can participate for extended periods of time. As co-learners, people can receive as much attention as they are willing to give. It represents the kind of extended practice support that every communication skills training program needs (but may not have). Participation in a local peer support network is an ideal follow-up activity for courses in businesses, schools, clinics, etc., that use the Seven Challenges Workbook
The lack of communication and conflict resolution skills has drastic consequences all through society. High school violence, workplace shootings and child abuse come to mind immediately as examples. Therefore it is in our own extended best interest to create learning environments that encourage wider rather than narrower participation. We serve ourselves by serving the world, at many different levels.
The suggested participant agreements listed on the following pages, like the rules of baseball, are intended to help people focus and coordinate their efforts. They are promises to oneself, one’s teammates, and to the world in which we ourselves want to live happier lives. They were developed by Dennis Rivers after extensive discussions with teachers, therapists and potential peer support participants. Because peer support groups using the Seven Challenges Workbook are independent and self-governing, it is up to each group to decide what will best meet its needs. We hope you will consider the following four suggestions as a thoughtful starting place for developing the agreements that will define your particular peer support and learning group.
Four Suggested Agreements/Guidelines/Agenda Items
for Peer Support Group Participation
Suggested Agreement 1 — PURPOSE & FOCUS: In order to bring more fulfillment into our lives and more peace into our world, we agree to meet every _____________ for _________ minutes, in order to explore, study and practice communicating more cooperatively, creatively, consciously, compassionately, courageously and successfully, at home, at work and in our communities, using the Seven Challenges Workbook as one of our learning resources.
Suggested Agreement 2 — SHARING: In order to increase the amount of encouragement-toward- cooperation in the world, we agree to share our learning experiences, to the best of our ability, as a source of encouragement to others. We agree to hold in confidence (not talk about, outside the group) whatever experiences people share in the group.
(Editor’s note: The success stories of our peers encourage and empower us in ways that are beyond the reach of even the best teachers and books. Stories about personal struggles can be encouraging, also, in a paradoxical way: as we hear that others have go through a process of trial and error in order to improve, we can stop feeling that we are especially lacking in ability.)
Suggested Agreement 3 — VOLUNTEERING TO HELP AND TO LEARN: In order to deepen our communication skills and to help build a more cooperative, less violent world, we each agree to help at least one other person study and practice the Seven Challenges Workbook curriculum, _______ hour(s) a week, in one or more of the following co-learner roles:
- being a learning companion or “study buddy” for a single individual,
- starting and coordinating a study and practice group at home, at work, at school or in other appropriate community settings,
- supporting other Peer Volunteers to develop both their personal communication skills and their mentoring abilities,
- presenting the Seven Challenges approach at meetings and conferences as an example of publicly-shared knowledge that is available to everyone,
- teaching introductory classes on a donation basis or through low-cost adult education programs (class participants may be charged for the cost of reproducing the Workbook and related class materials), and
- other public service activities appropriate to my life circumstances, such as volunteering in jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, hospitals, etc., or translating communication training materials into other languages.
Suggested Agreement 4 — JOURNAL KEEPING: In order to bring both our communication learning and our life stories into better focus, we agree to keep personal journals of our thoughts, feelings, hopes, disappointments and experiments in living.[One of the most important aspects of journal writing is that we can only guide as much of our life and action as we can observe. Journal writing is a practice of observing ones own life. If you are not familiar with journal writing, you might begin by writing letters about your life journey to real or imagined friends. Keeping a journal will give you a safe place in which to privately express, explore and clarify your feelings and wants before publicly expressing them. Also, learning to observe your life through journaling will help you learn to observe more of your moment-to-moment conversational interaction.
Suggested Next Steps in Peer Support Group Participation
Costs: Please make participation in your local Peer Support Group as inexpensive as possible by using community rooms in public libraries as meeting places. (The Seven Challenges Workbook and a large library of related study material is available free of charge in our Online Library.)
How to get known in your community: You are welcome to develop your own local web site listing your activities, and develop you own e-mail lists. Many newspapers will list study and support group activities for free. As the encourager of the Peer Support Groups, the New Conversations Initiative strongly suggests that if you are going to make your name available to the general public, that you schedule meetings in public settings: library community rooms, restaurants or coffee shops for small groups, and bank or school community rooms for larger groups.
A note about paid teaching: Anyone with the appropriate teaching and coaching credentials and/or experience is welcome to use The Seven Challenges Workbook as a curriculum for teaching and coaching in schools, colleges, businesses, social service organizations, in-service training programs, and in psychotherapy and social work settings. You are welcome to make as many copies of the Workbook as you need without payment of any licensing or royalty fees. (The Workbook is already in use around the world as a training guide in English, Spanish and Portuguese editions.) At the same time, for the various reasons stated above, we hope that everyone using the Workbook will participate in the development of peer support networks available at low cost or no cost, so that more people can stay engaged in the communication skills learning process on an ongoing basis.
Responsibility and Liability in an Open Source Context: Because we have no control over independent local groups, and because the Seven Challenges Workbook is offered to all groups, organizations and persons free of charge, Dennis Rivers and the New Conversations Initiative cannot accept responsibility or liability for the activities of local study and practice groups. Dennis Rivers and the New Conversations Initiative permit everyone to use the materials found on the New Conversations web site, but do not endorse any particular teacher, coach or organization. As a condition of the use of such materials, all groups, organizations and persons using teaching materials from the New Conversation web site agree to accept complete responsibility for their activities and use of such materials. Use of The Seven Challenges Workbook by a person or organization does not constitute an endorsement of that person or organization by Dennis Rivers or The New Conversations Initiative.