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5 Jun 2020

Cultural Coach: How to have a conversation that opens minds and softens hearts

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June 5, 2020 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Linda Wallace

Linda S. Wallace

Just like busy intersections, hot topics can be viewed from a variety of angles. Where we stand — to the right, to the left, in the center — ultimately determines how we view the parades of people passing around us.

The fiery riots and out of control looting following the brutal Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis has divided, even outraged, the folks who support social justice and those who view it as a made-up issue.  Emotionally charged times are likely to trigger our cultural filters, which then prompt us to fight harder and harder to ignore the facts that don’t support our truth.

High performance learning communities use simple communication techniques to open minds and soften hearts.  

If we are liberal, we tend to live on the collectivist side of the street. Typically, we consider the good of the community and examine how policy affects the lives of individuals. In the current climate, we are more likely to say the looters and angry protesters are evidence of failed and inequitable social policies, including non-diverse police forces, brutal policing practices and cultures, unequal schools, a failed criminal justice system and disparate employment opportunities. For us, the greater good — like civil rights or community safety — may sometimes outweigh individual rights like free speech or gun rights.

However, if we are conservative, then we tend to prefer the individualist side of the avenue. We value independence and self-reliance. We think that the individual ultimately determines their own level of success in life. So as we watch riots, we are more likely to place blame closer to home: attributing the violent behavior to a character defect or to the parents. We might argue that dysfunctional communities and broken families are the real root of such outrage — not injustice.

As liberals and conservatives look through these different lenses, they can’t understand how the other side gets it so wrong. While this makes for entertaining TV news, it does not serve democracy. Both liberals and conservatives are blind to the fact that their truths are even more powerful when you put them together, side by side.

Don’t wait for the other guy to change; lead by example.

 Below are a few techniques for holding the type of dialogue that might actually help America advance the conversation on community policing and public safety.

1) You know your view is correct, right? You don’t need to spend all your time convincing the unbelievers. Instead, invest your time trying to understand why other groups are right as well. In other words, don’t stay on your corner; move into the intersection to make new discoveries. Examine that situation from new angles.

2) To maintain credibility in a powerful dialogue, don’t talk about people or groups you have never met and you don’t know, you will lose credibility fast. Liberals, this means no sweeping generalizations about the conservatives, police, Nazis, gun rights and free speech; conservatives, no sweeping generalizations about poverty, discrimination, minorities or immigrants.

3) Be prepared to listen without offering a response. Perhaps you might come back the next day –- after you have had a chance for quiet reflection –- to share what you learned. Create a learning competition rather than a competition designed to score points.

4) Be prepared to evaluate and rethink your beliefs, assumptions and worldviews. High performance learners sometimes have to let go of popular beliefs to become complex thinkers. Don’t do it for the rioters or the police, do it for you.

5) Listen even when the conversation becomes painful and difficult. Resolve not to shut down the speaker and not to walk away.  When your feelings are hurt say ‘ouch’; if you hurt someone else’s feelings say ‘oops.’

Remember, there are no lost causes, only warriors who grow weary and give up the fight. Go out today and have a conversation that just might save a police officer’s or a protester’s life.

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