The holiday season has traditionally been a time of peace and goodwill. We’d rise above the daily hassles. We spend time with family, see our friends and connect with our colleagues over gifts, mince pies and parties.
I hope we still do all those things, but this year feels different.
We’ve had a cultural earthquake. First Britain cracked, then the US broke apart, now we’re seeing tremors in Europe.
It’s exposed big cracks between people that were previously united. There are such drastic differences of opinion that we fear the other side and what they want for our shared future.
When did we stop working together as a nation? When did we lose the ability to have a conversation, discuss our differences with respect and find a middle ground?
It feels like the middle ground fell into those giant cracks and we are all waiting to see if we stay standing or fall over.
Can you make a difference?
If there is a single belief behind my coaching and my posts, it is that we have the ability to change things. We aren’t passive riders on our life’s raft; we can decide where we want to go and steer that direction.
Change takes two things, the desire to put the effort in and a plan for how to go about it.
I’ve been reading Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence. I think she can help us with the plan so I’ll share a bit of her wisdom.
Her belief, founded in neuroscience, is that we react to every conversation by either listening to connect or listening to defend.
She says “Are you sending friend or foe messages? Are you sending the message You can trust me to have your best interests at heart or I want to persuade you to think about things my way?”
As the listener, we make that distinction almost instantly.
When we slip into defence mode, all kinds of things happen in our brain. We get a jolt of adrenalin and this sharpens the part of our brain that looks for additional threats.
We move into modern day fight or flight mode. Today’s flight is shutting the conversation down as quickly as possible, skittering away horrified that they’d say things like that.
Our fight mode is pretty obvious, we stop listening, we explain our own view and keep pushing our point every time there’s a break in their stream of words. They aren’t going to convince us and we just want them to shut up so we can convince them.
Judith says the quality of a culture depends on the quality of the relationships, and the relationships depend on the quality of the conversations.
She was talking about corporate culture but it seems pretty applicable to our country’s culture as well.
How can we be one group of people united if we yell, protest and struggle against each other?
Changing a culture feels hard, but changing a conversation feels more accessible.
If we all can change a few conversations and make some small repairs to the ruptures in relationships, we are bound to make progress.
So how do we do that?
Knowing that we move instinctively into defence mode when we sense a threat, we need to be aware enough to break that cycle. When someone fundamentally disagrees with us, we can shift our pattern and not shut them down by walking away or speaking louder.
The first step is recognizing we’ve been “triggered”. Try to pause and acknowledge their perspective.
I choose the word acknowledge, not agree or support, just acknowledge their point of view. Then ask them to explain a little about how they got there and what they hope will come out of that.
If you’ve put yourself in “neutral”, you stop sending your own threatening signals to them. They can relax and be more rational.
“That’s not something I usually agree with so I’d be interested in hearing how you think that would work and where it would lead us.”
“That’s not the way I’d thought things would go, what seems exciting to you about that option?”
Yes it’s hard – changing a nation’s not easy
I mentioned earlier that change takes two things, the desire to put the effort in and a plan for how to go about it.
This is the part where the desire to change has to come in.
It’s hard not to feel threatened. Then it’s hard not to threaten them with your point of view. You both believe the civilized world will disintegrate if we follow the other’s path.
However, listening to connect means there will be some things in common. We all want to feel safe and have a job that affords a decent way of life. We all want kids to have a future that lets them explore, experience and be happy.
Listening to connect means we’re seeking the common ground, actively searching for where we can agree.
The magic that happens when you listen to connect is that the other person becomes open to your thoughts as well. Lowering your defences and being transparent and curious in your interest, naturally creates a reciprocal response, the other person is more willing to listen.
My holiday wish for everyone is that you might find the desire and your own plan to change a nation. I hope we can find it in us to bridge the cultural cracks and find our common ground.
Let’s regain the pride we’ve had in our country, we can make a change one conversation at a time.
And I’ll tweak these lines from the poem …
We heard her exclaim as she drove out of sight
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.