Everyone we talk to expresses the same sentiment: this election/campaign season cannot come to a close soon enough. People who may be neighbors, or co-workers, even relatives, are at odds after the harsh rhetoric that’s come from so many of the major campaigns over the last year, and can’t even engage in a simple and short exchange over the weather or kids.
We don’t think that’s what any of us want. And as we go about the work of supporting our community and our children in the future, we’d like to propose we all take a step back, and take a deep breath. Let’s think seriously about what it takes to have a conversation, a simple and civil conversation, for starters – because, in the end, we all want what’s best (we just need to get over the fact that we don’t agree on what that is or how to get there).
In this TED by Celeste Headlee, (it’s only 12 minutes long) Celeste Headlee (who is in a radio host) talks about the lost art of conversation (our words, not hers). She also addresses the need to have a conversation with people who don’t necessarily agree with us on topics that have already proven to be uncomfortable or even explosive. (Of course, we can’t and shouldn’t jump into any discussion with the idea of tackling that explosive topic as a conversation opener, either.)
Let’s face it, we can’t all continue to go through life only interacting with those we know are in 100% agreement with every idea we have. Nothing ever changes that way and, in the end, we only become more divided. We need to remember, the key to having these discussions is not always to change someone’s mind, but to first listen to what they have to say. It comes down to understanding (or at least trying to understand) the other person’s perspective.
We may walk away, feeling as though the other person will always and only believe what they believe, and there’s no chance to come close to meeting in the middle, but at least we will have a better idea of why. Please note, we are not saying this is easy.
Not being able to come close on those hot topics doesn’t mean we don’t and can’t share the same values around other topics like great food and wine, or appreciation of classic automobiles, or maybe the experience and heartbreak of caring for an elderly parent. Let’s remember, there other things in the world beyond our political views!
Here’s a cheater’s list of Headlee’s 10 tips to having a good conversation:
- Don’t multi-task – “be in the moment”
- Don’t pontificate – “if you want to express your opinion without push back, write a blog”
- Use open-ended questions
- Go with the flow – stay focused on what the person, who’s talking, is saying at that time
- Don’t be afraid to admit you do not know something. “Error on the side of caution.”
- Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Remember, it’s not about you and conversations should not be about self-promotion.
- Try not to repeat yourself.
- Stay out of the weeds. Unless you are asked, hold onto the details, stats and data for your formal presentation.
- Most importantly, LISTEN. It’s about listening with the intent to understand instead of listening to merely reply.
- Be brief!
Let’s take a step back, and take a deep breath. Maybe we all need to think about how to listen more, be brief, and be kind. The road ahead (to healing and uniting) may be a rough one, but we have a better chance of making if we travel it together.