A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

Are you with me or against me? In life, we’re all essentially in the same boat — as humans, as Americans. Are we willing and able to keep our boat afloat? What will it look like — balance, focus, leaning in, pulling together? Or, will we resist, struggle and capsize?

Why should we bother engaging with others who have views, beliefs, values and concerns in opposition to our own? Probably because my side/your side battles will prevent us from growing and thriving. All-or-nothing, black/white, right/wrong positions are extreme and most of life occurs in the gray zones. In fact, we need each other’s ideas and passion to resolve important issues, accomplish goals and effect change, especially in the realm of important social and political issues that impact us all.

So, how can we learn to overcome our resistance to listening to, and actually hearing, what others have to say? Here are a few suggestions:

Assess The Situation
We cannot solve problems or accomplish constructive change if we don’t understand the current situation. In order to do this, we need to obtain accurate information and to acknowledge that creative problem solving involves investigating multiple options.

Start by knowing that everyone thinks they are right, and everyone has their own reasons for their beliefs and behaviors. Telling someone that s/he is wrong and, that you are right is not helpful. Dismiss your self-righteous attitude, be humble for a moment, and seek first to understand the other person’s reasoning before you attack, judge or disagree.

Many politically active people in our country today believe that they are motivated by love and their opponents are motivated by hate. Imagine that your ideology is based on benevolence —you want to help people. Do you truly believe that the other side’s positions are intended to be malicious or destructive? This is common in world conflict — Palestinians and Israelis, Republicans and Democrats, for example.

Separate The Person From The Situation
One of the first rules for dealing with a difficult situation is to separate the person from their words and actions. A decent and intelligent person may hold ideas or beliefs with which we disagree. This does not make them evil or stupid. It means they have a different opinion. Name-calling, denigration and vilification of others is ignorant, rude and cruel. Our society cannot progress when this type of stereotyping, cynicism and judgment prevails and predominates.

Fear Rears Its Ugly Head
Uncertainty and volatility surrounding disagreement and conflict induces fear which causes our defensive behavior patterns to take over: fight (move against others), flight (move away, avoid) or freeze (shut down). This instinctive stimulus occurs so quickly it tends to preempt rational thinking and choice responses. And, when we are afraid, we distance ourselves from others, precluding engagement or cooperation.

What’s In It For Me?
Again, why bother to reach across the aisle, to have a difficult conversation? First, ask yourself, what’s in it for me — to understand, to gain information or insight, to participate in a solution, to show respect for another perspective, to give respect to another person, to “have a vote?” Nobody has all the answers, and collaboration and partnership can unleash creativity and possibilities.

I have several close friends who hold very divergent views from mine on important social and political issues. So, I ask myself, “Why does this smart person seem to believe such a dumb or ridiculous thing?” Since I hold each of them in high regard, I want to understand their perspectives and reasoning. This type of discourse promotes and solidifies respect, trust and lasting relationships.

What about you? I encourage you to be ready, willing and able to overcome your resistance, one conversation or one interaction at a time.

A Search for Common Ground
Part Three: Constructive Conversations will provide specific steps for having conversations instead of adversarial debates by acknowledging and understanding differences in order to discover common ground.

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

Jacob and Phil wrestled with each other in friendly but intense disagreement about a range of issues: power, government, same-sex marriage, religion, media, morality, race and more. Each often felt misunderstood and couldn’t understand why.

“You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong),” written by Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, presents an engaging look at a conversation that launched a sustained dialogue between Jacob, a professor, and Phil, a nonprofit leader. [Read more…]

Living Brave Interview Series: Brene Brown Interviews Oprah Winfrey

It was Lucille Ball who said, “I’m not funny. I’m brave.” And so she was. It took a lot of courage in those days, especially for a woman, to do all of the wonderfully “nutty” things that she did.

In the first taped episode of her “Living Brave” series, Brene Brown interviews Oprah Winfrey, and courage takes on a very different meaning in a conversation that is fascinating and illuminating. We don’t often get to hear Oprah answering personal questions and sharing fairly intimate details about her life and her “own truth.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 11.46.51 AM

Brown, whose latest book is Rising Strong, asks Oprah some pointed questions, the first of which is what vulnerability means to her. The answer: “It is being willing to express the truth no matter what — the truth of who you are. The essence at the core of what you are feeling at any given moment. Being able to open up your soul and let it flow so that other people can see their soul in yours.” That’s pretty powerful, I think, and as the interview progressed, I had a glimpse of seeing my soul in Oprah’s.

When asked by Brown to give an example of what she still feels vulnerable about, Winfrey shared that it’s “not having conquered the whole weight struggle — balancing what it means to be a strong powerful woman in the world juxtaposed with trying to control what you are eating.”

Brown and Winfrey talk about stories — those we create about others and those we create about ourselves, or that others create about us and how we deal with them.

When asked about what fear she still struggles with, Winfrey said, “I’ve worked on the disease to please a lot.” Reading and introspection helped Winfrey learn how to live an “intentional life.” She no longer makes decisions unless she thinks about what her true and pure motivation is for doing something. “The intention informs the cause, and the reason for doing the action is what actually is going to show up in your life. It will come back to you.” Winfrey’s example: “I realized I was often doing things for people who kept coming back for more and I didn’t understand it.” It finally became clear that the intention was she wanted to be liked. Wow, does that sound familiar. Yes, folks, even Oprah felt the need to please.

I found this discussion about bravery and courage to be so important for all us to hear and to really think about. I was particularly affected by Winfrey’s answer to the question: “So what do you do if you want to lead a brave life and not disappoint anyone?” Her answer: “You cannot live a brave life without disappointing people.” It does take courage — especially for people pleasers — to make decisions they know are going to disappoint people, but do it anyway to be true to themselves.

The discussion continues with fascinating topics that include the physics of vulnerability, taking falls and rising again, the two “shame tapes” and how to understand that sometimes the world is “reflecting you back to you.” Says Winfrey: “No one is saying anything about you that you haven’t thought about yourself.”

I urge you all to listen to the conversation. It’s powerful, honest and brave. Oprah Winfrey,  Brene Brown, and yes Lucille Ball, have each found the courage to live her truth.

Candor In The Workplace: Good News, Bad News

A recent Wall Street Journal article* about the need for blunt feedback in the workplace got my attention. I immediately posted it on Facebook, hoping to start a conversation about it.

The writer’s premise? “It’s time for workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other, no matter what.” Referred to as “radical candor” or “front-stabbing,” it is believed to help employees “stop trying to be nice all the time and start speaking up about sub-par work or work-life balance.”


Here’s the thing. Transparency and candor in the workplace are absolutely good and important. The tangible and intangible costs of lack of engagement and collaboration within an organization are substantial. Unfortunately, candor and honest feedback can be destructive when used as, or perceived as, weapons.

Creating and sustaining an honest and transparent culture where individuals are safe to speak truthfully without doing or sustaining damage is the challenge. Most people understand how to recognize and resolve a problem. Many do not realize that respecting the dignity of others or repairing a compromised relationship is often at least as important as solving that problem.

I have no quarrel about the benefits of constructively addressing performance and conducting issues with open and honest communication. With radical candor however, employees are expected to defend themselves or change when confronted with a direct, painful critique of their ideas or behavior. While it is better to address someone directly and honestly, people need to believe in the good intentions of the person providing the feedback.

Even white lies are lies. Time for a little candor?
Even white lies are lies. Time for a little candor?

Accurate evaluations and comments are important for career advancement and personal growth. “Mokitas” — truths that everyone knows and are afraid to say aloud — are often used. Employees are encouraged to speak up and share them without fear of retribution.

Frank, truthful and honest feedback is a good means of getting things out in the open so people know where they stand — their roles and responsibilities, as well as their contribution to the enterprise. However, criticism without consideration of another’s feelings can be hurtful and destructive. Individuals need to trust the constructive purpose of the feedback in order to receive the critique as intended.

Honest, accurate feedback and critique are valuable commodities because we can never see ourselves as others see us — usually everyone sees us differently. Having the opportunity to repair, recover, learn and grow is priceless.

Of course, many subjects are controversial and need to be discussed. Individuals want to be heard, to at least have the existence of their interests and beliefs recognized. Resentment grows when employees feel intimidated, keeping their mouths shut about subjects that management decides are beyond discussion or dispute. The lack of transparency causes people to disengage, feel devalued and alienated, become distracted and stressed while sins of omission become commonplace.

Open dialogue shines the light of day on workplace conversations and relationships and inspires collaboration, commitment and loyalty.

* “When Nice is a Four-Letter Word,” by Rachel Feintzeig. Wall Street Journal, Thursday, December 31, 2015

“PinocchioProfile” by Mrkgrd – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Clear, Credible Communication

Would you choose to build your house on sand or on a rock? Since sand shifts and erodes, it’s clearly the rock that would provide a solid and predictable foundation.

Building on a rock won’t eliminate issues such as wind, rain and storms, but in most cases, your well-built house will withstand the elements.

In much the same way, a relationship based on a foundation of trust and consistency can also withstand and recover from storms of misunderstandings, disagreements and confusion.

Because mind reading is not possible, we need to rely on and learn how to communicate clearly and concisely with words and actions that are congruent and devoid of discrepancies or conflicting messages.

Also critical to a clear message that gains trust is the alignment of words, non-verbal cues and actions. Said another way — Do what you say! Trust, respect and credibility are earned by consistent congruence between words and actions over time.

All too often, however, what you communicate to someone is not necessarily what they “hear.” While you may know what you meant, the other person may have understood something different. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you to verify that a listener received your intended meaning. And, the best way to do that? Ask the listener to restate what they understood in their own words.

Sad to say, most of us do not confirm our understanding of messages. Rather, we often tend to assume shared meanings of words and an approximation of the information conveyed.

Understanding is the purpose of communication! And so, the speaker and listener should mutually engage to reach common ground as a basis for discussion. Agreement is not required, but acknowledgment of another’s perspective is.

A little negotiating may be needed in order for each person to be clear about the essence of the issue or the topic, the objective facts, or even the purpose of the talk. The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing — have only one conversation at a time. Stay focused and on track. An attitude of openness, good will and a desire to learn is needed for successful communication.

Tips for rock-solid communication

  1. Talk about one issue at a time.
  2. Be clear about the specific outcome you seek.
  3. As a listener, paraphrase the speaker’s message.
  4. As a speaker, ask what meaning has been understood.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. When things don’t add up, clarify.
  7. Notice whether non-verbal cues match words.
  8. Be present; give your complete attention.
  9. Do not react; think before you respond.
  10. Be honest. Be authentic. Be yourself.

A sign on an office door in a neighborhood church reads,

For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a childcare center on the first floor.

You see the problem? Even though this sign is kind of funny, the message is not clear and does not inspire confidence.

As a speaker, be clear about your meaning. Then, stand in the listener’s shoes to imagine how your message will be received.

Build your relationships on a solid foundation of clear, credible communication that will earn trust — a priceless commodity.