Sit down and chat: the benefits of roundtable discussion

We’ve all done it. Sat down and got lost in conversation for hours, enjoying the company of others, enjoying a good debate, or in a good moan at the world in general. It is fun, but roundtable discussion is beneficial in more ways than you’d think.

In case you are out of the loop, Jada Pinkett Smith launched Red Table Talk in May last year. The Facebook Watch series is hosted by Smith, her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and Pinkett Smith’s daughter, Willow, of ‘Whip My Hair’ fame. It is essentially a weekly web talk show where the women chat candidly about all kinds of issues, bringing together the perspectives of three generations.

(If you have kept up with the Kardashians, you might have heard of the show, as Jordyn Woods recently featured to talk about the flaming car-crash that is the daily lives of that family).

“The series was going to be about as candid as it could get”

Regardless of how you came to hear about it, Red Table Talk is super refreshing. It has become a hit, with 1.3 million fans on Facebook, and with Bethonie Butler of The Washington Post noting that ‘there’s an authenticity woven throughout the episodes that makes Red Table Talk stand out amid a surplus of celebrity-hosted talk shows’. The premier episode featured Jada sitting down with her husband’s first wife Sheree Zampino to discuss motherhood, proving that the series was going to be about as candid as it could get.

So what is ‘roundtable discussion’? It brings up images of medieval knights discussing swords in lakes, or of dreaded ‘team building’ business scenarios, but it is literally just defined as ‘a form of academic discussion’.

Think of your average seminar or workshop. When you are not trapped in one, they can be incredibly enlightening opportunities to discuss ideas with fellow students, guided by a knowledgeable academic. Conversely, picture of grabbing coffee with your friends and letting your conversation drift from a superficial comment on your most recent charity shop bargain to an in-depth debate about the social, political, and environmental issues of our time.

But what are the benefits of roundtables?

“Humans need physical interaction like this”

Firstly, they can be hugely relaxing. You might get a little heated during your debate, but ultimately, getting to talk about things, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has a relaxing effect. Face-to-face conversation allows you to improve your ability to empathise, to better read non-verbal cues and prevent miscommunication, and strengthen the social bonds you have with those around you. Humans need physical interaction like this, and a low pressure environment is great for getting your mind off university for a moment, while also teaching you how to be a better listener.

You can become a better public speaker, too. It is nerve-wracking for a lot of people, but an essential skill. A roundtable might have a mediator to ensure everyone gets the chance to voice their opinion, but in most casual settings, it is up to you and your friends to give each other space to speak and to be excellent speakers. Discussions push you to communicate well, and when you do, gives you the confidence to share your thoughts, and to value them as important.

“It is vitally important to hear a new opinion”

A friendly debate is not going to hurt you, and roundtables are a great opportunity to hear new opinions and perspectives. The echo chamber effect, wherein you become surrounded by those with your own views and thus become stuck in a negative cycle of constant reinforcement, is dangerous. Especially in this day and age, when it is easy to filter what we hear and read and to make snap judgements, it is vitally important to hear a new opinion. If it does not change your mind, it will certainly be useful in helping you reaffirm your existing stances.

Roundtables allow you to learn about the people around you, to utilise the areas of your brain that have become zombified after hours staring at a screen, and to create groups which are strong and supportive teams. It gives you the opportunity to learn about the interests of others, and to share your own. Whether it is something you have just learned in a lecture, or the revelation of what kind of bread you are (thanks, Buzzfeed!), having a chat is good for you.

Superficial conversation is not a bad thing—I love a good gossip as much as the next person. But it is also nice to just talk. You do not have to open the conversation with ‘well, it all started when I was five…’, but it might be worth a shot.

“It can leave you with feelings of fulfilment that you might not get from scrolling through your Instagram feed at midnight”

Connecting with people in this way might seem a bit old fashioned, but it is beneficial to your mental and emotional health in so many ways. It can leave you with feelings of fulfilment that you might not get from scrolling through your Instagram feed at midnight. Grab a friend or three, find a place to sit in Portland Coffee or by the lake, and talk. Talk about life, love, about that weird bird you saw on campus—and make sure to listen well in return.

Esme Johnson

Featured image courtesy of Maryland GovPics via Flickr. Image license found here.

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