LARA stands for Listen, Affirm, Respond, and Add Information. It was first developed by Bonnie Tinker as a communication tool for non-violent, transformative conversation for the organization Love Makes a Family, which served LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. Intergroup Dialogue programs, recognizing LARA’s capacity for changing the ways we communicate with one another, have adapted LARA since then.
The overarching aim of this tool is to encourage communication across difference (whether of identities, perspectives, or experiences). As a communication tool, LARA can be useful in building connection and trust with others, creating space for the exploration of multiple – even conflicting – perspectives, and bringing emotions, assumptions, and social identities into the conversation. The aim of LARA is to help steer a conversation towards mutual understanding of each other’s identities, lived experiences, and positions. This makes it especially helpful when you want to work through (rather than immediately resolve) a conflict or when you are working with strong emotions. You may find it useful in other situations as well, and that is for you to discover.
LARA is both a method and an approach. As a method, it outlines clear steps that you can follow in a conversation and concrete tips for better communication. As an approach, it challenges you to be intentional in connecting with others as you talk to them. It offers goals for communicating across difference that can inform the decisions you make in a conversation. Adhering to these goals makes it easier to approach others with more empathy, curiosity, and openness about their perspective, and also more clarity, authenticity, and nuance when sharing your own perspective.
As you read through the rest of this document, try to think about LARA as a flexible formula. It is highly context dependent, so you get to decide how you want to move through the steps, and how to adapt LARA both to your own communication style and the context. Inclusive communication allows people from different backgrounds and those with different abilities to feel comfortable and acknowledged. The LARA framework does assume certain abilities (e.g. the ability to maintain or break eye contact) and is based on some Western cultural assumptions about communication (e.g. that eye contact signals respect). Thus, when using LARA, it is crucial to pay attention to the needs of everyone in the conversation and then adjust accordingly.