Civil Conversation is Still a Thing
Written by Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed. at White Cloud Therapeutic Services
People often say to me, “I feel like this country is so divided. It seems impossible to even talk to people sometimes. Everyone is so ….” (fill in the blank – defensive, reactive, angry, easily offended, uninformed etc) Sometimes they say the same thing about their family, their marriage, their friendships and their social media feed – it just feels like everyone lives in different realities. And what we can all agree on is that feeling this divided makes it harder to be in relationship. The stress and anxiety around this is literally undermining our wellbeing.
Personally, I believe we can bridge the divide, and we can have civil conversation – we just may need to rethink how we do it. I’m going to give you some brief ideas here, and then suggest that if there is someone in your life you’d like to work on this with (spouse? parent? best friend?), you can reach out to me for some counseling and facilitation either with them or for your own support.
The first step is doing some internal work to figure out whether this is a good moment for a difficult conversation, what our motivations are, and whether we can give the person we are talking to the benefit of the doubt.
Ask yourself – do you need to have this conversation right now? Try to stay focused on the situation you are in. Don’t let your own or someone else’s strong opinions derail you from what you really need or want to do. For example, if you’re checking social media briefly before you need to start a project, don’t get sucked into a political debate! Part of our collective resentment around all this comes from feeling unable to stick to our priorities.
Do you know the acronym HALT? It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If you are any of those things, take care of yourself before you engage. It’s fine to tell someone – I’d love to have this conversation with you when I have had some food/taken a nap/relaxed a bit. I’m also going to suggest, gently, that exchanges on social media are a lot less productive than talking to one another directly. So while you’re dealing with the HALT, consider also finding a time for a call or coffee.
Then let’s get honest about why you want to have this discussion. Motivation is important because it sets the tone for the conversation. None of us responds well to someone whose goal is to change our mind or push us into doing something different. Bridging the divide and finding common ground is a lot more possible when we are motivated more by curiosity than a desire to change someone’s view or behavior, or simply get them to say, “You’re right!”. Almost all of us welcome someone’s genuine interest in our viewpoints. The more we can give someone the benefit of the doubt and also be curious about what they believe and why, the smoother this will go.
You can probably tell that I’m suggesting you put your own agenda on the backburner for now and move into a more active listening frame of mind. There are a couple of different approaches I like to use for difficult conversations, such as the Nonviolent Communication approach developed by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, and used worldwide to reduce conflict.
The approaches I recommend begin by trying to understand the emotions and needs that are underneath the opinions you both share, and then becoming clear about specifically what you are asking for from the person you’re in conversation with. That is the way to find common ground, and plant a flag there. It’s a starting point. And perhaps, once you have come to understand where your friend or loved one is coming from, they will be open to hearing about your perspective.
If any of this is interesting to you, especially if you would like to try this with someone close to you, learn the skills for future conversations or even be part of a support group for people working on this, please reach out and let me know: Madeline Vann, MPH, M.Ed., NCC at www.whitecloudtherapy.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Article was written and sponsored by Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed. at White Cloud Therapeutic Services