We react to threats to our deeply held beliefs as if they were threats to our physical body, triggering our survival drive. But this “fight, flee, freeze” instinct — “only modestly more sophisticated than an alligator’s” — evolved early in our evolution when the most important survival skill was to avoid getting eaten. It’s a completely inappropriate instinct for responding to the challenges of today, where the most important survival skill is cooperation.
The "Difficult Conversations" workshop grew out of a cross-country “conversation road trip” my son and I took following the 2016 election. Our goal was to better understand what people outside our “bubble” were thinking and feeling, and to discover how we might heal our divide.
But as our tour unfolded, we realized our conversations were less about understanding and more about simply connecting. About setting aside our personal agendas and showing genuine curiosity, care and concern. About taking time to build relationship.
In her TED talk, "I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here's why I left," Megan Phelps-Roper offers four conditions that, when met, enable us to have constructive conversations with "the other." Her first three conditions are examples of the heart dimension of communication, and her last is an example of the mind dimension.
The 3:1 ratio is important. Too often we short-change the heart dimension, creating a relationship that lacks the connection, trust and resilience necessary for engaging in a difficult conversation.
The following fleshes out the heart and mind dimensions in a little more detail.
"I just prayed that the workshop would give me some tools to manage whatever interactions might transpire with this guy."
That's what Amy thought as she unintentionally sat down next to a Trump supporter at a recent Difficult Conversations workshop. Over the course of the day she made a critical discovery: What we typically think of as common ground —shared opinions, attitudes and beliefs — is in reality a false floor.
Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate my workshop, “Difficult Conversations: The art and science of thinking together,” with the community leaders of Redding, California — the state's tenth most conservative large city, according to voter registration figures. Their response may surprise you.
In an article for the Wall Street Journal titled “The right way to have difficult conversations,” author and podcast host Celeste Headlee offers five main pieces of advice. The last one, in my experience, is the most essential.