Regardless of where you place yourself on any given political spectrum, I trust you can agree that we need to be having deeper and more meaningful conversations with one another.
I’ve been getting an increasing number of questions from people wondering how to stand up for the values and human needs we deeply want to serve in the world in the most generous, skillful, and connected ways possible.
How do we neutralize polarization without neutralizing our values?
How do we build more cohesion without compromising ourselves?
How do we change people’s (and our own) minds without stimulating resistance and defensiveness?
In my own journey, I’ve found that a foundational set of principles has been invaluable to me as I navigate and calibrate my inner “conversation compass.” Here are my top five conversational principles for successfully navigating charged conversations in our time:
1. Honor choices, for all people
None of us like to be told what to do, what to think, or how to be. Humans have deep needs for freedom, choice and sovereignty. Learn how to work WITH people, not against them. Instead of telling people what they must do, have to do, or should do, inspire them with a worthy vision that they can live into freely. Mandate as little as possible – if anything.
Remember: forcing people to do things inevitably leads to resentment, defiance and sabotage. Instead, inspire people to reach for strategies and choices that they can truly get behind because they are aligned with their interests and needs.
2. Cultivate belonging, for all people
We all want to belong to a safe community of people. If you want people to choose to “do the right thing,” then we need to be invested in the communities of people who are directly affected by these things. We need to be active, safe, included, and belonging members of our communities.
When we do not feel like we belong, we are less likely to include the needs of others in our choices. If we want people to make socially responsible choices, we need to give each other the lived experience of being seen, heard, and mattering to our communities.
3. Be willing to change ourselves
Enter into every conversation with the assumption that you will learn something and that something in you will shift. When you enter conversations with the primary agenda of controlling, evaluating, or changing other people, you will breed resistance and distrust. In high quality conversations, both sides learn from one another. Model that.
4. Rehumanize everyone
Find the places within you that you’ve developed enemy images of other people and do the inner healing work and expansion work of your heart that allows you to soften toward them again.
This often involves a combination of deep trust in your own ability to show up with integrity, as well as a commitment to understanding and seeing the world through someone else’s lived experiences which may be vastly different from your own. Strive to be part of the larger human community, instead of settling only for your smaller, narrower sub-communities.
5. Open hearts, change minds
Every time that I have changed my mind about something, or updated a belief of my own, it has been deeply influenced by a personal relationship with someone that I care about. When I care about someone else and their experiences, I am more willing to examine my beliefs. Conversations need to begin by establishing safety and care for one another: this is the ground for deep, true. and complex change.
When we care about one another, see our shared humanity, and acknowledge that we have similar interests, we can get on with the complex problem-solving needed in these times. However, if we see each other as enemies, as “the problem,” and default to demands, diagnoses, judgments, and force, we simply entrench the very things we wish to be free from.
The way we speak reflects the way we think, and the way we think is portrayed in the way we speak. Thinking and language inform and influence one another. Words change things: they create, they focus our attention, they bring into being things that previously were simply sensed.
The way we use our words matters. If you feel inspired to skill up your own consciousness and capacity for more high quality conversations, here are some books that I have drawn inspiration from over the years:
Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
Everything is Workable by Diane Musho Hamilton
Compassionate Conversations by Diane Musho Hamilton
Use Your Difference to Make A Difference Tayo Rockson
Connecting Across Differences Dian Killian and Jane Connor
And as always, I’d love to hear from you. What books would you add to my list? What principles are missing? You’re welcome to leave a comment below.
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