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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.

Monthly Action: Make Your Plan for Voting Now – May 2020

Though social distancing might have you staying at home, you’re still empowered to make change. We’re excited to introduce a new series of monthly actions that invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. First up: get educated on your options for voting during COVID-19.

May 2020 Action: Make a Plan for Voting

As the global pandemic impacts America’s economy, education system, healthcare and more, the stakes are high for voters to make their voices heard to reimagine our collective future. But with states making varying decisions on how to conduct elections during an unpredictable health crisis, it’s key for voters to act well in advance to understand how they can weigh in – not just in November, but in any primaries and special elections.

This month, make a plan for voting by visiting your state’s election office website and answering five quick questions:

1.) What is your state’s vote-by-mail policy for COVID-19?
Every state has some method of voting by mail, but some state’s laws require a voter to meet eligibility criteria to receive an absentee ballot. See if your state requires an excuse, and/or has made temporary procedural changes to increase access to voting by mail. 

2.) What do you need to do to get an absentee ballot?
Some states will automatically send ballots to registered voters. Others will send voters an application to request an official ballot. Or, voters may need to reach out to request a ballot for voting by mail. Do your research now to determine the process, and keep an eye out for changes between now and November.

3.) Is there a primary or special election coming up?
Though the general election may still seem far off, some states rescheduled their primaries and special elections from the spring to early summer – so your next opportunity to vote may be just around the corner. Find out what state and local elections may be coming up, and when.

4.) What is your deadline to act?
Often, absentee ballots must be requested well in advance. They may also need to be received or postmarked by a specific date in advance of Election Day. Find out these dates – then make a reminder on your calendar well in advance.

5.) And make sure you’re registered to vote!
Not yet registered? Act now to give yourself enough time to complete the process. (Some state’s deadlines are up to 30 days before an election.) Haven’t voted recently? Check your registration status to ensure your name has not been purged. If you are no longer showing as an active voter or have moved to another state, it’s time to re-register. It’s always a good idea to check your registration to ensure it’s current, even if you’ve voted recently.