“Walt Whitman once penned, ‘I hear America singing,’ back in sunnier times.
Yet, that bright hope has dimmed. Our land is split, our tunes now clash. America’s song now is a jumble of notes.”
What’s Our Move?
Harvard University’s done some heavy lifting when it comes to sorting out clashes, especially with the Harvard Negotiation Project. Two big hits from there are “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, and “Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
In my early days of mediating, I dived into conflict resolution in South Africa and even chatted with people from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
What we’re up against in America isn’t just squabbles over certain topics. It’s deeper – a tug-of-war between two different ways of seeing the world. “Our side” vs. “Their side.”.
Here’s a six-step game plan for chatting with someone from “the other team” and turning a heated argument into a cool, ongoing exchange of ideas.
- Start off by admitting, in a friendly way, that you both see things really differently.
- Let them know you’ve got a lot of respect for them and that you get they have solid reasons for their views. (This one’s key!)
- Ask them to walk you through their beliefs. Say, “Help me get where you’re coming from…” or “Maybe I’ve missed something.” Show you’re genuinely open to what they have to say!
- Now, they might share stuff that sounds wild to you, but keep your cool. If you want to ask questions, go ahead – just to clear things up, not to argue. You’re on a mission to truly get their side of the story. Make sure they see that you’re all ears, without any hint of judgment.
In this part, where you’re just gathering info, avoid disagreeing or showing any hint of a frown to what they share. Remember, you’re trying to build a bridge, not burn one, so keep the talk positive and criticism-free.
- After she’s done explaining her side, thank her for being open and honest. Let her know you get how tough it can be to share thoughts with someone who might not see eye to eye with you. Tell her you really value her openness and you hold her in high regard.
- Then, in the friendliest way, let her know you’re not quite sold on switching your stance just yet. But you recognize that we’re all works in progress, always learning and changing. Make sure she knows she’s given you plenty to mull over.
Stick to this six-step approach when you’re reaching out to or strengthening ties with someone you don’t agree with. It’s not easy, especially when their views seem way out there.
Yet, these chats are crucial. We’ve got to have them if we want to steer our country away from division and towards something better.
And somewhere, Whitman’s tuning in.