About us

Our mission is to foster constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

Difficult conversations—about the issues that matter most—are too often avoided or approached with fear. Many believe, often based on experience, that engaging with differences will threaten the stability of their organization or lead to unproductive debates where no one feels heard or valued.

Even when people do engage with difference, they often retreat further into what they know and understand; communities devolve into silence, heated disagreement, or sometimes even violent conflict. In this stalemate, everyone loses the richest, most essential parts of living and working in diverse and pluralistic communities.

Essential Partners has worked for three decades to facilitate conversations and equip people using our approach to dialogue. We bring a method that is applicable and adaptable to a wide variety of contexts. Our method, Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), relies on preparation, structure, questions, facilitation, and reflection to enable people to harness their capacity to have the conversations they need to have.

Essential Partners offers workshops, custom training, and dialogue facilitation, as well as consultation. Our aim is to equip you to have meaningful conversations about essential issues, so you can move forward and create a better way of living together.

 


Values and Commitments in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • Essential Partners embraces diversity of identity, belief, background, and experience in every aspect of our organization and our work.
  • We believe that open communication across difference is vital, even when those conversations are frustrating, difficult, or sometimes painful.
  • Our programs are structured to provide each person, whatever their background, beliefs, or identity, with the space to participate fully and share openly.
  • Essential Partners does not tolerate dehumanizing or threatening speech toward any individual or group because of their identity or beliefs.

 


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I, my community, or my organization work with Essential Partners?

Essential Partners offers training, facilitation, coaching, and consultation. If you want to develop skills in facilitation or communication across differences, our training can help build the capacity of your whole organization or community, the leadership team, or a representative group of stakeholders (or any variation thereof).

We custom design and facilitate conversations intended to help participants accomplish their purposes. If you hope to shift the whole culture of your organization or team, we can work with you to design a series of projects intended to meet various stakeholders where they are.

Our coaching and consulting work generally accompanies other projects around training and culture change, but we also work with leaders or facilitators as they prepare for challenging conversations.

Will you travel to me?

Absolutely! Our work takes us all over the world. In the past 30 years, we’ve worked in communities all across North America and in more than twenty countries across the globe.

My community/organization needs a mediator. Do you offer mediation or conflict resolution services?

Sometimes communities need a conversation that ends in a policy decision, vote, or agreement. However, our work is most valuable when the community will have to remain engaged after that agreement is decided—and who wish to be more equipped, cohesive and resilient for future difficult moments or decisions.

Some of our projects have led to agreements. But we do not consider ourselves conflict resolution practitioners because our work prioritizes building the patterns of communication, trust, and relationships as a foundation for effective collaboration and decision-making moving forward.

If you need conflict resolution or mediation, and your first priority is negotiating an agreement, we recommend MWI and Search for Common Ground.

So how is Essential Partners’s approach different from conflict mediation?

Our RSD framework helps individuals communicate meaningfully across significant differences of identity, value, belief, or opinion, which improves group cohesion, resilience, and mutual understanding. In some cases, our work has served as the basis upon which further conflict mediation has been built. As one recent client noted, “The dialogue had to come first and inform the decision-making process because even in this very small and homogenous population, folks had become deeply divided.”

Do you provide diversity, anti-racism, or implicit bias training?

We understand that organizations and communities are wrestling with issues around diversity, race, power, and inclusion. Essential Partners is not primarily an educational or advocacy organization. It is important to build systems that support diverse workplaces and communities. We often work with communities and organizations working to become more inclusive—or to create cultures that are more diverse, innovative and collaborative. We know that diverse workplaces matter. Our work supports groups as they collaboratively create a culture for how they want to work together and engage across differences of identity, belief, personality or worldview.

We approach work around inclusion and power by first asking what a preferred future would look like, then intervene by helping communities design a different way of being together. Our goal is to help communities, organizations, and teams constructively communicate across differences, particularly in difficult moments. By bringing all voices into the conversation, we believe that outcomes will improve as new possibilities emerge and diverse communities will become more cohesive and resilient over time.

For organizations and communities explicitly engaging with intercultural issues, we offer the Intercultural Development Continuum as a model for creating shared language around intercultural competencies - while still making space for individual needs and community-wide benchmarks.

Where is Essential Partners located politically?

As process experts, we design each conversation based on the needs, purposes, and participants in a community. As such, not only are we nonpartisan, but we regularly work both within and among politically motivated groups in a community. We have worked with conservative Pastors on issues of science, with transpartisan communities on guns, and with more liberal communities on environmental issues.

We work with any group of people who want to engage constructively across difference and recognize that the status quo isn’t working—people who want to feel heard and feel their voice makes a difference. We often find that this need for constructive engagement and active participation is a need just as much within political groups as between them.

Our work consistently leads to higher levels of social cohesion and resilience. After working with Essential Partners, communities see higher levels of trust and better relationships across differences in diverse communities. But we also design every project in a community based on that community’s specific purposes.

We would like you to teach us how to communicate more effectively in difficult moments. Could you do that in a 90-minute professional development session?

Nope. There is no “speed-dating” version of this work that has a lasting impact.