Last weekend I helped run a rabbit and cavy show. Though rabbits and cavies don’t speak my language per se, I did learn something about communication (and, by extension, dialogue) from the experience.

Over the past few years, the show’s organizers have done an outstanding job in making the show bigger, better, and friendlier to exhibitors. I have been continually impressed with their energy and good cheer. They needed all of it and more for this year’s show—because the usual location was smack in the middle of flood-ravaged upstate New York.

Not to be deterred, the organizers found an alternate location: same town, but now a hotel high on a hill. Still, there were many questions in the air, and on Facebook things were getting testy. Some exhibitors started to question the wisdom of moving forward with the show. (I was worried about it myself.) Others jumped in to disparage the questioning—and the questioners. Virtual voices were raised. People ascribed ulterior motives to those on the “other side” of the debate. I’m sure some relationships were damaged in the result.

I think that conversation could have gone differently. I wish I had acted differently.

For one thing, I wish the organizers had communicated specific answers to our questions. I believe that in many cases, people act from reasonable motives and assessments, so when I hear their reasons I can often go along with their decision. Even if I disagree with it, I at least understand and appreciate their logic. So perhaps more specifics from the organizers could have defused the Facebook kerfuffle and got us all pulling in the same direction.

But, of course, the organizers are not mind readers. They can’t anticipate every concern. So my part in the general conversation (the part I wish I had played differently, and the part any exhibitor could have played) was to ask the questions. Not inflammatory questions like “How can you possibly have the gall to hold a show when people are suffering?” or “Why are you putting our animals at risk?” but specific questions like “What do you know about conditions that we don’t know? Where can I get information about the roads? How wet is the hill where the outside portion of show is taking place? What can the hotel people tell us? What does the federal disaster area declaration mean for us?”

In a nutshell, here’s what I’ve learned: If you have information, share it. If you should have information (as an event planner, a leader, etc.), go get it and then share it. If you’re not privy to information, ask good questions. Whoever you are, assume good intent on the part of others until proven otherwise.

I think this goes for dialogue in general. Do you really know what the “other side” thinks about the issue at hand? If not, what questions can you ask that will help you understand their thinking? What can you share about your perspective that will help them understand you? Is someone in the dialogue missing key information or access to a respected source that could clear up misunderstanding?

Question for the day: Have you ever been in a dispute where one missing piece of information resolved the whole thing—or at least made it easier to understand where everyone was coming from? Please share your story here.