Listening in the Midst of Pain: An Interactive Program on Tochacha (Constructive Communication)

Listening in the Midst of Pain: An Interactive program on tochacha (constructive communication) – Approximately 75 minutes. This exercise is adapted from The Compassionate Listening Project.

15 MINS Review and discuss: 10 Tips for Constructive Feedback from the Rambam by Daniel Roth.

3 MINS Instructions: Overview
In this exercise, each of you will have the opportunity to reflect on a situation in which someone hurt or offended you. We will consider how Jewish resources can enhance your understanding of what happened and how things could have gone better.

In a moment, I’ll invite you to choose a partner to work with. When it is your turn to tell your own story, please speak authentically and honestly – without either censoring or excessive dramatization.

When it is your turn to listen, please listen quietly and with your full attention, as you would listen to a loved one sharing something painful and important with you. There may be no need to speak at all, except to let your partner know you’re listening.

Later, as the listener, you will be invited to reflect back what you heard, as accurately and fully as you can. This is to let the speaker know how her/his sharing was heard. The goal is not verbatim recall but attentiveness, and an opportunity for the speaker to correct something about your account, or go deeper in her/his understanding. Be careful not to engage in what Parker Palmer calls, “fixing, advice-giving, or telling someone how to run their life.”

Then you’ll switch roles, so everyone will have a chance to be both the speaker and the listener.

Now, please get into dyads and decide who will go first, and wait until I give the next instruction.

10 MINS Round 1:

  • 3 MINS Speaker #1
    Speaker #1: Please describe a face-to-face relationship in your life in which someone has said or done something that hurt or offended you.
  • 2 MINS Partner
    Please reflect back what you heard. You are trying to be a mirror for your partner’s sharing – not a coach, adviser, or counselor.

Now we will switch roles.

  • 3 MINS Speaker #2 speaks (instructions as above)
  • 2 MINS Partner reflects back (instructions as above)
    (Invite the whole group to take three breaths in silence, a time to absorb and then let go of the stories that were just told and received.)

13 MINS Round 2 – Surprise!

  • 3 MINS Speaker #1
    Speaker 1: Try to describe the same incident from the perspective of the person who hurt or offended you. Imagine yourself as this person, trying to get inside the other person’s mind and heart as authentically as you can (not in caricature). Speak for 3 minutes now as this person, using the first person. Start with “Hello, my name is. . . .”
  • 2 MINS Partner
    Please reflect back what you heard your partner share. (You are speaking as yourself, but speaking to the person your partner was role-playing.)

Now we switch roles.

  • 3 MINS Speaker #2
    Please describe your incident from the point of view of the person who hurt or offended you.
  • 2 MINS Partner #2 reflects back.
  • 3 MINS Debrief in dyads.
    Please take three minutes to talk with your partner about what you noticed in this exercise. What was difficult for you? What was easy? What did you learn?

10 MINS Round 3: Tochacha Conversation

  • 4 MINS Speaker #1 offers tochacha
    Speaker #1: Be yourself. How might you begin a conversation inspired by the Jewish principles and practices of tochacha? (Respect the human dignity of the other. Try to come from a place of love and caring, to the extent possible. Try to stay aware of how the other person may have experienced and understood the incident differently than you did.) Partner: try to role-play the person who hurt your partner, drawing on what you learned in the previous round about the other person’s perspective.
  • 3 MINS Debrief in dyad
    How did that go? What was difficult? What did you learn?
  • 4 MINS Speaker #2 offers tochacha
    Speaker #2 initiates challenging conversation, as above.

3 MINS Debrief in dyad

15 MINS Debrief in full group, exploring the following questions:

  • What did you notice?
  • How was your role-play tochacha conversation affected by the tochacha texts and/or by articulating the other person’s perspective?
  • How was the conversation different than it might have been without this input?
  • Can you now better imagine approaching this person in a constructive and sacred way?

5 MINS Closing
Teach the following text, emphasizing the far-reaching potential benefits of engaging in such difficult conversations in a constructive and sacred way.


About Amy Eilberg

Amy is the director of the Pardes Rodef Shalom (Pursuer of Peace) Communities Program, helping synagogues and Jewish organizations place the pursuit of peace in interpersonal relationships at the center of their communal mission. Amy is the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Click here to read more.

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