7 tools to help us talk to each other, not past each other.

Furious activity is no substitute for understanding. — H.H Williams

Our politics and our communities are more polarized than ever before. I don’t think it’s because our views have grown more extreme or that people have become too different. I think it’s because we’re failing to understand, engage, and empathize with each other. I want to find ways to help reduce the growing gulf between friends, families, and entire communities. Here are seven things that I hope can help us have meaningful dialogues.

Practice listening. People need to feel heard before they can open their minds to a different view. So listen. Embrace the learning mindset and put your energy into listening to learn, not to respond. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not fully giving the other person a chance to complete their thoughts; you’re focusing on your perspective instead.

Be honest. Research suggests that having brief, frank conversations can reduce bigotry. In one study, people were asked to put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, non-confrontational conversation. It worked. The key to reducing our intolerance of others is share and understand the feelings of others.

Identify commonalities. It’s easier to relate to another person if when we feel connected. Be proactive about identifying shared experiences. No matter how different someone may seem on the surface, we all have commonalities that can move us closer together.

Recognize underlying values. Research suggests our political opinions are shaped by basic family models. George Lakoff, a cognitive science and linguistics scholar, describes two hidden moral frameworks that drive our political preferences: the “strict father” and “nurturant parent.” (Read his essay on how Trump effectively employed these models.) It’s important to recognize that our subconscious framework may blur out understanding of where others are coming from.

Pay attention to language. Arguing with passion might not be the most effective way to persuade others. Robb Willer gives an excellent explanation here. Consider the moral language that you’re using — you’ll be more likely to be heard and effectively persuade if you reframe your argument to include moral frameworks that don’t coincide with yours. Try tying issues to the moral values of your audience.

Accept that you might not change their mind. Every dialogue you have on issues that matter to you helps. You might walk away from a conversation feeling like nothing changed. That’s okay. Just because your role in the conversation is over, the issues are still on the table, and you’ve positioned the other person into a more receptive position to hear what the next person is going to say.

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