Kitchen Talks

A space for discussion, community and dialogue.
We hear all the time how difficult it is to speak about the topics that divide us into different camps.

What does it look like to create a space where people with different perspectives on politics, religion, culture and ideology can meet in a spirit of respect and openness? One where we come not only to listen,
but also to learn why people hold fundamentally
different opinions?

At Kitchen Talks, we're here to build that space.
Kitchen Talks is a series of events where people from different walks of life gather to discuss controversial topics. It was dreamed up first as a conversation club in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where 'kitchen talk' refers to the conversations that, back in the Soviet Union, were too contentious to be had outside the home.

A generation ago, the kitchen was a safe space to discuss history, politics, sex, religion and everything else under the sun. We hope that our own "kitchen" provides an opportunity, and a safe space, to engage with the people and the ideas we don't always encounter in our everyday lives. We strive not only to speak, but to facilitate an encounter that respects the fact that we all have different life experiences and come at important questions from different angles.

Our meetings involve introductions, discussions, large-group exercises, small group work, anonymous activities and more. We encourage all participants to join the conversation, but understand if some decide to listen more than to share. Our facilitators come with a prepared set of discussion questions and exercises, but often adjust their plans depending on the group and what participants are interested in discussing that day.

We occasionally host a special format called Kitchen Talks Explore which is closer to a facilitated dialogue than a discussion. Explore sessions take a particularly controversial topic and have facilitators structure the conversation so that different sides of a debate can describe what they believe and why they believe it. There will be time to ask questions of the other side, as well as to participate in group work with people who may agree and disagree with you.

If, at the end of a meeting, someone tells us "I've always heard about people who think that way, but I've never met someone like that. I don't agree with them, but I understand a bit better where they're coming from," that's our idea of success.

What Kitchen Talks Is...

Our meetings are conducted in a spirit of dialogue.

This means that we build a space where people bring a desire to understand, not to convince. Participants treat each other with mutual respect, even when their beliefs differ. We encourage active listening, especially when followed up with open questions.

When a conversation is lead by dialogue, new points of contact open up between groups who otherwise see each other as opponents or the other. It generates mutual understanding and good will, and can open up new ways of thinking, living together and moving forward. The focus is on building relationships rather than getting results.

To find out more about dialogue, feel free to check out the article below. It is taken from a workshop with the Nansen Center For Peace And Dialogue (NCPD), a Norwegian organization that works with groups recovering from war. It explains how dialogue can bridge even extreme divides and open up opportunities for cooperation after periods of great hurt.
Dialogue is a process used by professionals in contexts ranging from family disputes, labour conflicts and mediating different parties after a war. Kitchen Talks is an event that operates in a similar spirit, but is open to anyone interested in these kinds of practices.

Every meeting takes place with a facilitator who is there to assist participants contribute to the discussion. We welcome all who are interested in learning about dialogue facilitation, and if you are interested in potentially facilitating yourself at one of our meetings please contact the organizers.

...and what it's not.

This is not a place to bring a soapbox. We welcome opiniated people, but hope that everyone speaks from their experience and explains why they believe what they believe. If you're looking for converts, Kitchen Talks may not be for you. But if you're curious about what other people think, you'll be in luck.

This is not a therapy space. Many topics we discuss are contentious. While some may enjoy this kind of discussion, for others it can be stressful, concerning or problematic. If you have concerns for your mental health or wellness, or if you think a topic could be triggering for you, be sure to consider whether this event is right for you. You are more than welcome to join, but facilitators are no substitute for trained mental health professionals.

What you might encounter at a meeting

Many of us surrounded ourselves with people who hold similar beliefs or live a similar lifestyle as we do. This is fine – most communities are built on a foundation of the things that we have in common.

Kitchen Talks was developed as a space to discuss ideas, potentially with people who have very different assumptions about the world, how it works and what should be done about various issues. When you come, be aware that other participants may hold other opinions about ideas that are important to you. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, feel free to message the facilitator during or after the meeting.
Note: while a diversity of opinions may be expressed at a meeting, nobody is expected to accept them. You may find some of the ideas you encounter at Kitchen Talks to be problematic, or even disturbing. This is normal, and we intentionally wanted to create a platform for people to encounter these kinds of connections in a safe space.

That said, everyone's needs are different, as are their lived experience. Some participants, for a variety of reasons, may feel less empowered or protected against certain ideas or perspectives. Even when conducted in a spirit of sincerity and openness, some conversations may involve content that is triggering or distressing. If you are not sure if Kitchen Talks is for you, feel free to share your concerns with the organizers.

Each meeting begins with a set of principles that help to build a safe space. If any participant has additional suggestions for how to address particular needs, they are more than welcome. Participants co-create the meeting with the facilitators, and we are all learning how to do dialogue together.

What meetings look like:

Learning About The Other
Each meeting starts with introductions. Participants are welcome to describe what the topic means to them, as well as highlight the questions that are relevant to them.
The heart of Kitchen Talks is conversation. Much of our time is taken up by a discussion led by participants and assisted by facilitators. Each meeting comes with a set of discussion questions but, more often than not, participants come with interesting questions
of their own.
Exercises for large and small groups, online or in-person.
No matter if we're meeting online or in-person, Kitchen Talks facilitators offer a number of activities and exercises to be done all together or in small groups. These can involve verbal or nonverbal response to specific questions, allowing everyone even in large gatherings to share their opinions effectively.
Anonymous Activities
Some of our activities are done anonymously, either on paper or through anonymous platforms like Google Docs. This way participants will feel more safe to bring up sensitive questions or perspectives without becoming the center of attention.
Feedback and Support
Each meeting finishes with a special feedback sheet that allows participants to describe what they enjoyed about the event, as well as what they think could be improved. There is also space to suggest topics for future discussions, as well as to leave donations to support the facilitators and organizers.

How to get the most out of a discussion

We encourage participants to take active part in all discussions, and have some pointers to help them do just that.

First, we invite everyone to ask open questions. Open questions express curiosity rather than judgement, a desire to understand rather than convince. Questions are a powerful tool when they imply collaboration and clarification rather than confrontation.

Read more about questions in this workshop from the NCPD:
When you ask an interesting question, be prepared for interesting answers. These answers can challenge our assumptions or narratives, and being open to them may be a positive but disorienting experience.

Learn more about listening to challenging answers in this workshop from the NCPD:
Speak from your own experience, rather than making assumptions about what other people feel or think. Describe how a topic affects you personally, or impacts your ability to meet your needs.

Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg pioneered a technique called nonviolent communication (NVC) that helps us express our perspectives, feelings and needs in non-manipulative ways. Read more about it on WikiHow:
When you're in a dispute, try to find the core of your disagreement. We often misunderstand the other side of an argument, and finding clarification on what precisely it is at stake (and how you relate to the topic) is an important step in finding a way forward...or a way to agree to disagree.

A helpful technique to do just this is called double-crux, developed by the Center For Applied Rationality (CFAR). Read more about double-crux at LessWrong:

How do I sign up?

If you've read this far and want to register for one of our events, you're more than welcome! Kitchen Talks has a few bases of operation, so click one of the links below to find out if there's an upcoming event in a time zone near you:

Tbilisi / Caucasus: register on social media through Frame on Facebook or Telegram.

Saint Petersburg / Russia: Vkontakte (VK) – Trava

Ottawa / North America: Eventbrite

Looking forward to see you at one of our events! If you have any questions, contact Josh on VK, Telegram or Eventbrite.
Josh Nadeau is a freelance writer and dialogue practitioner based in
Ottawa, Canada and Saint Petersburg, Russia. He writes about dialogue,
conflict and peacebuilding at Summerpax.

Banner photo by Lera Chegge
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