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Dreading Election Season? Get 5 Tips for Better Political Conversations

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: as tensions rise during election season, prepare yourself with tools for leading better political conversations.

August 2020 Action: Find More Common Ground in Your Political Conversations

With the countdown to the general election now underway, political divisions can be more fraught than ever – particularly at home, where the emotional stakes are high. This month, prepare yourself to lead better conversations with family and friends who may hold opposing political views.

5 tips for better political talks

Turns out, (nearly) everything we need to know about successful political conversations we learned in Kindergarten: take turns, be curious, and be respectful.

Looking to go a bit further? These five simple tips from Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond, Living Room Conversations co-founder Joan Blades and Bridges USA co-founder Manu Meel will set you up for more successful conversations with loved ones on some of today’s most divisive issues.

  1. Examine your motives. Before engaging in conversation on a politically charged topic, be honest with yourself about what you hope to achieve. Is your goal to change the other person’s mind, or to understand them better so you can begin to bridge divides? (The latter, as you might guess, has a much greater chance of success.)
  2. Don’t go in cold. The first step in any successful conversation is relating to the other person as a human being. Before delving into a politically sensitive topic, look for a way to break the ice and reinforce your personal connection.
  3. Listen to understand, and show it. When it comes to political conversations, are you simply listening for points you can successfully argue? Or to truly understand the other person’s motivations and perspective? To have a productive discussion, you must first understand the personal reasons someone holds a certain view; then show you’ve really heard their contribution to the conversation. That can open the door to an “a-ha moment.”
  4. Look for shared values. Conflict resolution experts who utilize interest-based bargaining offer a good lesson on navigating high-stakes issues. Rather than delving into where each of you stand on specific policy positions – for instance, immigration reform – go deeper. Try to identify shared values, such as your support of an inclusive society or the pursuit of the American dream. From there, it can be easier to find areas of common ground.
  5. Know when to redirect. The ability to use and accept facts is a prerequisite for productive conversation. So, if your trusted experts are different and there are no shared facts, it may not be possible to have healthy discussion with someone on a divisive political issue. Accept that we all must live with and love people with different viewpoints, and that de-escalating a heated situation may be the most constructive action you can take.

In a polarized political atmosphere and heated election season, we can each play a role in bringing light, not heat, to the nation’s civil discourse. Get more insight on how you can heal the divide (and talk politics) by watching our full webinar with Living Room Conversations and Bridge USA, and by downloading our Common Grounder guide.

Want to Help Heal Racial Inequity? Start With These 5 Questions

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: reach out to a local leader to ask how their organization is addressing racial justice and equity – and how you can help.

July 2020 Action: Talk to a Local Leader About Race & Equity

As protests for racial justice and equity continue across the nation, how is our own community leading change? To move beyond the status quo, citizens need to be at the forefront of calling for progress. And to become an effective force for transformation in our own neighborhoods, the first step is listening to understand.

This month, reach out to ask one local leader how their organization is taking action to address racism in this moment of crisis and opportunity.

5 questions to spur action & gain insight

Asking local leaders what they are doing to address racism demonstrates a desire for action in the the community, while giving you valuable insights on how to serve as a more effective advocate. Here are five questions to help start the conversation:

  1. What is your organization’s stance on racial justice and equity, and the current protests?
  2. How has this been communicated to the public and discussed with your team?
  3. How is your organization taking steps to support people of color in our community during this difficult time?
  4. How are people of color represented in leadership roles at your organization?
  5. What action can I take to help your organization move this issue forward?

Making connections to influence change

Race is entwined through all aspects of our society. And leaders across all sectors can play a role in influencing change – from educating and legislating, to innovating and networking.

Consider reaching out to a leader in a sector where you can offer valuable insights, or where you feel passionate about the opportunity to make progress. Leaders who are positioned to influence change can include:

  • Chief of Police
  • Mayor or Town Supervisor
  • State representative
  • School or university administrator  
  • Local business leader
  • Pastor or faith leader

Reaching out to board chairs and board members can help ensure your communication is considered at an organizational level.

And, don’t forget the critical piece of asking for the opportunity to connect and talk personally about your inquiry. One-on-one conversation is the best path to find common ground and opportunities to take action. Be prepared to learn about other perspectives and experiences, and to ask questions to clarify rather than assuming you know the other person’s intentions.

No matter who you are or where you live, your voice and participation is vital to help heal racial tension and inequities. Let’s start by reaching out – and listening to understand – in our own communities.

Black Lives Matter: 5 Tips For Holding Better Conversations on Racial Justice

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: commit to holding a conversation on the importance of making progress toward racial justice.

June 2020 Action: Hold a Conversation on Racial Justice

In this watershed moment for modern civil rights, support for the Black Lives Matter movement has reached new levels and opened up an opportunity for lasting change. Achieving such change will require many engaged citizens – especially white allies – to boldly acknowledge the need for progress, and bring light not heat to the national exploration of a common path forward.

This month, commit to taking action by holding at least one conversation about racial justice with a friend, neighbor or family member. Much of the work of holding a productive discussion happens before we start talking. Here are five quick tips to help prepare you for a better conversation.

1.) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Our country’s painful history of racial injustice and varying world views we all bring to the table can make conversations on race emotionally fraught. Fear of “saying something wrong” also dissuades many from engaging in conversations on race. Be prepared for moments of discomfort, and stay committed to the importance of continuing to talk about the issues.

2.) Prepare by doing your own work.

We all bring personal experiences and opinions to conversations on race. Take some time to reflect and identify your own biases, and how your assumptions have been shaped by education and personal experiences. Explore, too, how these experiences may vary for people of color. Get started with the Race and Ethnicity series from our partner, Living Room Conversations.

3.) Reframe your end goal.

One essential key to holding a more productive conversation? Let go of the end goal of winning an argument. Instead, focus on making progress toward solutions. Seek areas of common ground using a “let’s work it out” attitude.

4.) Listen to understand.

Each person brings unique concerns, hopes and fears to conversations on race. Some may fear the police; others may fear defunding the police. Some may be focused on social justice; others on law and order. Active listening to understand motivations and intentions – and to show that you hear and acknowledge those concerns – is the first step to create an opportunity for solutions to be considered.

5.) Seek common ground, but don’t compromise principles.

Be prepared to be flexible in your conversations and work to find an approach that addresses the concerns of all parties. But don’t feel obligated to go along with something that violates your principles. Finding common ground isn’t about “being nice” or losing values. It’s about holding conversations that lead to understanding.

#InThisTogether During Covid19

By Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

#InThisTogether. That’s a “hashtag” circulating widely through social media right now. 

We love the spirit of that phrase and the message of reassurance it sends. We consider this not from the view of being “in a crisis” but rather the idea that when problems in a community arise, people’s natural reaction is to help and support rather than exploit the situation to serve a personal agenda or opportunity. This is why so many of our leaders are making the firm declaration that we will get through this current challenge even as they update us on the problem.

This conviction that we’ll be ok is not mere wishful thinking. Helping and supporting each other is one of America’s great strengths. It has enabled Americans to accomplish great things both nationally and internationally, seize previously unseen opportunities, and successfully navigate through extraordinarily difficult times.

In that spirit, and the spirit of Common Ground Committee’s motto, “bringing light, not heat to public discourse” we hope you and all of America will set aside any political differences and let your ability to help and support shine brightly in all that you do as you navigate through this situation in your own experience. As you do so, we encourage you to follow the requests of authorities, be present for your family and consider how you can help those around you and in your community who might be dealing with more disruption than others.

This is, indeed, a time of great challenge. But we can be confident that we will emerge from this experience stronger, wiser and closer as a people because, in the end, we are all #InThisTogether.

Common Ground Media Roundup: January 2020

Looking for a fresh take on finding common ground? Start with our January 2020 news roundup.

From calls for bipartisanship and better listening from new and old, how an age-old rule could be a tool to help political divisiveness and two books for you to start your common ground reading journey. Here’s a look at the top five stories and two books from our January 2020 reading list.


Articles

1: GOP Senator Isakson called for bipartisanship in farewell speech

USA Today – Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson made a plea for bipartisanship in his farewell speech Tuesday, December 3 as the U.S. Senate bid farewell to the lawmaker from Georgia.

2: Let’s fight for America by learning to listen first

USA Today – Pearce Godwin of Listen First Project and scholar Graham Bodie share insight for The Hidden Common Ground project on the need for better listening behavior as a way to combat the growing issue of polarization.

3: In 2020, Our bitterly divided America needs to recommit to The Golden Rule | Opinion

Newsweek –  The Golden Rule’s lesson of “teaching us to treat others as we would like to be treated” may be a beacon of hope in teaching others in this opinion piece from Joan Blades Co-founder of MoveOn and Living Room Conversations and Reverend Richard L. Tafel is Minister at Church of the Holy City & Founder of Log Cabin Republicans.

4: Talk Less. Listen More. Here’s How. 

The New York Times – Lessons in the art of listening, from a C.I.A. agent, a focus group moderator and more.

Book recommendations

1: American Manifesto: Saving Democracy from Villains, Vandals, and Ourselves

Amazon – Do you fear for our democracy? Are you perplexed by Trumpism? Are you ready to throw in the towel? Don’t! This is your guidebook to reassembling our hyperpolarized American society in six (not-so-easy) steps, written by co-host of WNYC’s On the Media Bob Garfield.

2: Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For 

Amazon – Recalling pivotal moments from her dynamic career on the front lines of American diplomacy and foreign policy, Susan E. Rice—National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama and US Ambassador to the United Nations—reveals her surprising story with unflinching candor in this New York Times bestseller.

Common Ground News Roundup: Fall 2019

Looking for a fresh take on finding common ground? Start with our Fall 2019 news roundup.

From clarion calls to cultivate more informed citizens and encourage a return to tact, to a look at what can happen when we hold intentional conversations, here’s a look at the top five stories from our Fall 2019 reading list.

1. Young Americans demand civic education — for good reason

The Hill – A democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive. Read more.

2. Quiet mediators in noisy places

The Christian Science Monitor – From Sudan to Venezuela, honest brokers are bringing a special skill set to ending conflicts. Not all succeed. Yet their quiet force of moral persuasion can be effective. Read more.

3. America Needs to Rediscover Tact

Wall Street Journal – In our politics, holding back and minimizing pain has given way to rubbing people’s noses in defeat. Read more.

4. Searching for common ground? Start with the Constitution

The Christian Science Monitor – Amid widespread Democratic concerns about the country’s direction, former Senate staffer Janet Breslin is reaching out to local Republicans. Part 5 in a summer series on people who are facing – and successfully navigating – America’s most intractable challenges. Read more.

5. Political polarization is about feelings, not facts

The Conversation – Robert B. Talisse argues in his conversation piece that polarization isn’t about where you get your news or how politicians are divided – it’s about how a person’s political identity is wrapped up with almost everything they do. Read more.