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Talking to the Other Side:
Keys for Setting Up Difficult Conversations

As we collectively grapple with issues that threaten our very existence, our new book reminds us that “othering” people won’t help us move forward. Instead, we need to temper how we engage with others by showing patience, kindness and empathy — regardless of political affiliation or beliefs.

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic recession makes this a uniquely challenging time in our country’s history. Unfortunately, while we face these great challenges, our country seems to be as polarized as ever — not just politically, but also culturally, socio-economically and around issues such as public health, the economy and the fate of our planet.

In our new book, How to Talk to the Other Side – Finding Common Ground in a Time of Coronavirus, Recession, and Climate Change, my co-author, Natalie Hoffman, and I sought out the keys to more constructive dialogue between opposing sides — through research, focus groups and hundreds of interviews with individuals across the politic, socioeconomic and cultural spectrums.

Our work revealed numerous ways to build bridges and win-win strategies between:

In her interview for this book, KoAnn Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands™, said it well:

“We need to move beyond this divisiveness and our own bubbles, because the stakes are too high. We will all sink or swim together.”

This is both true in how we handle our response to the current pandemic and in how we respond to so many of the issues that continue to divide us while threatening our well-being and our very existence.

Skrzyniarz has a unique perspective, as she and her colleagues at Sustainable Brands have been setting up conferences across the globe with people from across the political spectrum — with the goal of finding common ground to create a more sustainable world. When I interviewed Skrzyniarz, she reiterated that if you are going to have people with opposing political views on the same stage, you have to set it up fairly so that both sides will be able to participate without feeling attacked. Her advice (and this applies to conversations on the stage, in social media, or in the grocery store line):

1. Set the rules of the game/conversation and live by them

2. Acknowledge the other person’s reality. Everyone has a right to their point of view

3. Be respectful

4. Celebrate progress wherever it is found

5. Talk about shared ambition and things you have in common

6. If you want them to be open, you need to demonstrate being open-minded first

7. Instead of “either/or” thinking, focus on the power of "both/and

A common thread in Skrzyniarz’s interview, and throughout the book, is that it’s both possible and important to disagree without being disrespectful. Dismissing somebody because of who they voted for is not productive; and while it may be tough to allow them space to express their viewpoint, at the very least give them a chance.

In that vein, the book is about coming together, hope and practical solutions. It is not about finding ways to “convince” the other side that you are right and that they are wrong; nor is it about trying to get someone to switch political parties or point blame on how any crisis, including COVID-19, should have been handled. Instead, it is about finding common ground — through small actions and through the foundation of our shared aspirations and humanity.

The timing of our book’s publication is serendipitous, to say the least. As we collectively grapple with issues that threaten our very existence, the book reminds us that name-calling or letting someone’s political party define them in our minds won’t help us move forward. Instead, we need to temper how we engage by showing patience, kindness and empathy — regardless of political affiliation.

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