Step 6: Tools for Political Conversations
You’re nearly done. We’ve covered a lot of ground so let’s take a moment to review. We began by discussing the value of encountering viewpoint diversity and having your ideas challenged and refined. We then stepped back and took the big picture of life by checking in with the ancients. They’ve been telling us for thousands of years to calm down, don’t rush to judgment, look at our own faults first, and try using love rather than hate to engage with people — including our enemies. In Step 3 we looked at some basic psychological processes that trick us into rushing to judgment (system 1, the elephant), engaging in motivated reasoning (the rider serving the elephant), dividing the world into good (us) and evil (them), and then embracing naïve realism (believing that the morality of the situation is so blindingly obvious that the other side is either stupid or they are lying). In Step 4 we came face to face with the awesome power of the moral matrix – the fact that every culture, tribe, and team creates a “consensual hallucination” that its members take to be objectively real, which then closes their minds and hearts to people in other cultures, tribes, and teams, filling them with a sense of righteous certainty and (often) shared animosity.
These first four steps were all leading up to Step 5, the hardest part of this journey. In Step 5 we tried to enter the moral matrices of Progressives, Conservatives, and Libertarians. The goal of Step 5 was not to get you to change your political beliefs. It was to change how you see your fellow citizens. It was to show you that there are smart, sincere, and well-intentioned people who have different ideas than you do about how best to structure society, about the respective roles and duties of governments, families, and individuals, and about how to make tradeoffs among values that nearly all of us hold to some degree, such as compassion, equality, proportionality (or “just desserts”), liberty, loyalty, authority, tradition, and sanctity.
So now what? Maybe you were assigned to do the Viewpoint Diversity Experience as part of a college class or orientation session. If so, then it should be easier for you to read diverse texts and engage civilly with diverse classmates. And by “diverse” we don’t just mean political diversity. The ability to cultivate moral humility and then step out of your moral matrix should help you engage with texts and classmates reflecting every kind of diversity.
Or maybe you were encouraged to do the Viewpoint Diversity Experience because your company, religious congregation, or other organization has been experiencing problems and tensions related to America’s current political climate. If so, then it should now be easier for you to cut each other some slack – to agree and (respectfully) disagree, and then get on with whatever else your organization is trying to do.
But no matter how or why you came here, you are now better equipped to make a positive difference in America’s fragmented and polarized society. If you want to help – if you want to commit to political civility toward your fellow citizens regardless of your feelings about the President and the Congress—then you’ll need some additional tools. Cross partisan conversations are challenging. Fortunately, many organizations have been working to foster such conversations in recent years, and in the boxes below we link to videos and essays they have written that offer specific advice. We’ve also assembled some ideas and resources for manageable actions to start you on your journey of embracing the power of diverse opinion.
After you have read at least one essay, watched at least one video, and identified one action you might take in the short term, please click on the button at the bottom to finish the Viewpoint Diversity Experience.
- Joseph Grenny, Crucial Conversations (14:57). Joseph Grenny, bestselling author of Crucial Conversations, provides insight into how to successfully navigate crucial conversations. Grenny emphasizes the importance of recognizing that “how you feel during a a crucial conversation is not a direct function of what you just saw, heard, or experienced.” He urges us to recognize the way we interpret events and intervene before we are led astray by our emotional responses.
- Reaching Across the Red/Blue Divide (2016) by Essential Partners. This guide was developed by Essential Partners in the wake of the 2016 American presidential election and provides practical tools to engage in dialogue with individuals with opposing political views.
- Celeste Headlee, 10 ways to have a better conversation, TED Talk (11:44). In this entertaining and informative video, writer and radio host Celeste Headlee provides ten useful tips for avoiding arguments and having more productive conversations.
- I’m Offended, The School of Life (3:17). This short video is packed with useful historical and psychological insights into why we tend to be easily offended and how we can respond more effectively.
- David Foster Wallace, This is Water Commencement Speech (8:50). This video is adapted from Wallace’s 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College. Wallace provides useful insight for students preparing to engage with the difficulties and frustrations of the adult world. For the full transcript, see here.
Additional Conversation Guides
- Better Conversations: A Starter Guide (2017) by On Being. This guide, created by Krista Tippett and her team at On Being, combines wisdom and practical tips on how “to create hospitable spaces for taking up the hard questions of our time.”
- “Difficult Conversation” Small Group Study Guide, Triad Consulting Group. Authors of the best-selling book Difficult Conversations distil the book’s essential lessons in this practical study guide.
- Effective communication: barriers and strategies, Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo. This document provides an explanation of barriers to and strategies for active listening, accurate perception, and verbal communication.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936). This is the timeless classic in how to develop relationships and persuade people to see things your way. It clearly and concisely lays out the fundamentals, such as listening more than speaking and taking care to learn people’s names. Every student should read this for instruction in specific techniques to respectfully engage others with different points of view. For a quick overview, see this one-page summary of principles.
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (2002). This influential business book provides useful tools for effectively handling high-stakes conversations. It provides specific techniques for achieving positive outcomes from difficult yet important conversations. The lessons in the book can be applied in a range of settings, from in school, at work, at home, or with friends and family.
- Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen (2010). Members of the Harvard Negotiation Project present step-by-step research-backed lessons on how to engage in difficult conversations in a productive manner.
- Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath (2016). Behavioral scientist Christine Porath explores the value of civility and how mastering this skill can boost one’s influence and effectiveness.