After the most divisive political season in our nation’s history, I think we’re all trying to figure out how to move on. We talk about unifying our divided country, about building mutual support and repairing relationships, but have little idea how to do it.
The key to building relationships (or re-building them, as the case may be), has been and always will be through communication. We must start conversing again about topics that matter. “Conversing” means we’ll have two-way dialogues, where everyone makes an effort to ask questions, listen to answers, understand the diversity of our backgrounds and experiences, and respect differences. We must do our best to understand others’ perspectives with an open mind, so that we can together find common ground and mutually agreeable solutions to complex issues.
If we disagree, let us do so respectfully. Let us move away from black and white, and find a silver that suits us all. Yes, silver, not gray, because it’s so much more appealing and reminds us to look for “silver linings” in the clouds. Whether or not our leaders talk to each other with civility, we must. We must take it upon ourselves to set the tone for the discourse that we want in our companies, homes, and communities.
Finding our “Silver”
Figuring out what questions to ask at a time like this is tricky. In the past, I’ve found it useful to consider the level of intimacy and understanding you hope to achieve, using these four levels as a guide:
If you want to steer clear of politics, starting with Level 1 questions will feel very safe, but won’t necessarily get you that far in building common understanding.
For folks who are just meeting each other or need to find shared interests and common ground, Level 2 questions can be a good start:
[NOTE: these were drawn from the following Silver Series Thumball: Common Ground]
As you build up to Level 3 questions, you move a little deeper to understand others’ motivations, goals, personality, and the experiences that shape who they are. Discussion prompts might include:
[NOTE: these were drawn from the following Silver Series Thumballs: Shaped by Our Past and Getting to Know You]
Starting with a foundation of understanding and mutual respect and a shared agreement of ground rules (i.e. that you will focus on listening, speak only for yourself, etc.), you can delve into Level 4 questions:
[NOTE: these were drawn from the following Silver Series Thumballs: Team Dynamics and Diversity]
In the past, political questions may have been perceived as Level 2 or 3 questions, but with emotions running as high as they are today, we’d have to categorize them in Level 4. Here are some that might help you toward a path of mutual understanding–remember, the goal is to get each person to speak from their heart about their own fears and beliefs, staying away from the rhetoric shared by any candidate:
Opening our dialogue with questions like these will help Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents and others, folks with different beliefs, begin to understand what’s important to them–what they value and what they fear–without focusing on the poisonous rhetoric of the political candidates.
NOTE: Except for the political questions, all conversation prompts are available on the Trainers Warehouse website, where you will find our line of “Silver Series” Thumballs.
2 thoughts on “Learning how to talk to each other again”
I found this blog to be very timely and very sensitively written. The question samples are excellent and provide practical starting points. I was especially impressed by the sensitively worded Level 4 questions about politics. Maybe if we all focus on answering them ourselves we won’t be so quick to condemn or “write off” any person, leader or group.
Thanks for posting it and in so timely a manner.