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The PALS Approach: Handling Triggers with Grace

Have you ever found yourself caught off guard by something someone said? It happens to all of us. During these moments, it’s helpful to use the PALS approach to responding to triggers – a simple yet powerful way to navigate challenging conversations with grace and understanding.

The first step in the PALS approach is to pause. Pausing allows us to
catch our breath and gather our thoughts before responding. Here are
some helpful phrases you can use:
● “Can we pause for just a minute?”
● “I need a moment to reflect on what you just said.”

● “I’d like to revisit something that was just said or something that recently happened.”
● “I’m curious about the statement you just made. Please share more.”

Acknowledgement is key to showing interest in what the other person is saying. Here are some ways to acknowledge their perspective:
● Reflect back what you heard: “I heard you say… Am I correct?”
● “I understand your passion around this. Talk to me more about where it stems from.”
● “I appreciate you sharing your perspective on the issue. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to unpack it.”

Listen Generously
Listening generously means listening for shared underlying values or what is important to the person. For example:
● “It sounds as if freedom of speech is important to you. I also agree that it is important.”

Share Your Perspective
Use “I” statements and talk about your experiences:
● “Thank you for sharing your perspective… Here’s what I’ve experienced… Here’s what I’ve learned… Here’s what my research reveals… Here’s what I’ve found…”

De-Personalize the Moment
Emphasize the importance of de-personalizing the moment. Instead of asking for personal views, speak generally:
● “Other people share similar views about __________. What might be some reasons for feeling the way they do about the topic?”

Wrap It Up
To wrap up the conversation, summarize key points and thoughts that have come out of the discussion. Ask for any additional takeaways and insights:
● What were key learning points?
● What are you and the other person challenged to think about or research further?
By following the PALS approach – Pause, Acknowledge, Listen Generously, and Share Your Perspective– we can navigate difficult conversations with empathy and understanding. Try it out in your next conversation and see the difference it can make!
Happy communicating!

Dr. Andrea Dardello is the founder of Strategic Teaching and Reaching, LLC, an educational consulting service that provides tools and strategies to community college educators and leaders to foster equitable practices both inside and outside the classroom. Andrea, who holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, is a certified professional coach, and is a certified trainer in restorative practices.

***Adapted from Race Dialogues: A Facilitator’s Guide to Tackling the Elephant in the Classroom (2019) by Donna Rich Kaplowitz, Shayla Reese Griffin, and Sheri Seyka
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