AC4 Co-Executive Director Peter Coleman Interviewed for the Chicago Tribune
Divided America, Difficult Conversations: If you’re ready have them, here’s how — by Cindy Dampier in the Chicago Times
Here’s snippet from the Chicago Times:
So, should you try to break down the wall that divides you and your parents or your neighbor and start a conversation about immigration or abortion rights? There’s no easy answer, Coleman says. But he has come up with pointers for having difficult conversations, based on his years of study.
Know your own agenda. Before opening a difficult conversation, “some self-reflection is in order,” says Coleman. “You need to understand what you’re trying to get out of this conversation.” Try to be aware of your own biases — looking for information that confirms our point of view while ignoring other information is a basic mechanism of human psychology. Digging deep can have big benefits: Admitting to your own contradictory nature makes you more likely to be tolerant of others.
Consider your existing relationship. “If you are close to your brother and you have a lot of great memories together that keep you close,” Coleman says, “you might be able to talk about really tough issues and have a great discussion. If, on the other hand, you have always had a lot of hostility with your siblings, this is probably only going to feed it and make it worse.”
Give up on persuasion. If you are truly willing to simply listen to and understand another person’s point of view, the conversation is more likely to go well. If what you really want is to change their minds, you’ve got a bigger hill to climb — one that might require many conversations over time, or might not be worth having until you can let go of your focus on a specific result. Coleman points out that bringing facts and statistics into such a discussion is unhelpful, since issues that are divisive are also emotional. What’s important is establishing a tone of positivity, from the start of the conversation. “How we frame these conversations informs people’s behavior,” he says.
That positivity, Blades says, allows difficult conversations to become incredibly constructive. “What I know now,” she says, “is that there are a lot of good people out there who disagree with me completely. And that’s important to know. To solve these big problems, we need to have everybody’s best ideas in the room. When you’re in this adversarial stance with each other, there’s no flexibility. I would say we’re stuck because we’re not treating each other well.”