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We are at an incredibly polarized time in our nation’s history. While politics used to just be one way in which people identified themselves, in recent years Americans have used political affiliations as a way to judge others’ moral character.

With protests and rallies around the nation and a pandemic continuing its alarming rise, the polarity stands out now more than ever.

In the eyes of the “other side,” being a Democrat or Republican has become a short-hand stereotype for the quality of one’s morals and value system. Social media and news outlets have perpetuated this, encouraging and allowing us to remain in bubbles, surrounded only by people and opinions we already agree with. We all get our news from and believe in different sources.

If we are to effectively deal with the public health and economic crisis we now face, we must once again learn how to talk with one another.

Here are four ways to start more meaningful conversations with your political “other side” in order to find common ground during these challenging times. We’ll talk more about these and other insights at our live webinar on November 19th

1. Stop stereotyping

Stereotypes are generalizations of a group that hold some superficial truth but are often a gross oversimplification of an entire population.

No one person fits every stereotype that they are faced with, or checks every box associated with their political party. Stereotyping is simply lazy. It is much easier to decide “I like you” or “I don’t like you,” depending on if you vote R or D than it is to explore the depth of the lifelong personal experiences that led to their belief system and how they view the world.

If you take the time to discover the nuanced perspectives of each individual, you might be surprised at how many similarities there are between you.

2. Realize that we want the same things

Focus on commonalities before diving into divisive topics. Try to assume good intent.

Remember the last time you went to the grocery store and spoke with a stranger, or think back to attending your child’s soccer game. Most likely, politics didn’t even come up in casual conversation. That is because conversations naturally flow towards mutual points of interest—like the daily work/life struggles that we are all facing in these crazy times we’re living in.

If we realize that we all just want healthy and happy families, access to good jobs, enough food to fill our bellies, and a safe community, then it becomes much harder to demonize the “other side.” By first acknowledging our common humanity, we set the conditions for collectively overcoming the challenges in front of us.

3. Set up the conversation with empathy and respect

Too often, we get caught up trying to win the argument and convince others, rather than truly hearing what they are saying. Instead of genuinely listening while they speak, we are just forming counter-arguments in our heads. I’m sure we’re all guilty of this, and we’ve all experienced how unsuccessful this approach is.

This mindset is unproductive. Communication isn’t about going after your harshest critics and trying to convert them to your way of thinking. If we want to find mutual understanding between Republicans and Democrats, for example, we first need to peel back the onion a few layers, truly grasp what is fueling others’ beliefs, and then look for common ground.

Success in bridging the gap sometimes lies less in what is said than how it is said—the tone and format matter, as well. It’s helpful to create a positive and non-judgmental atmosphere in which peaceful and productive conversations can happen. This will widen both your perspectives. Rather than feeling like you are reaching an impasse, you will see progress.

It makes a big difference to enter a conversation with a foundation of respect, empathy, and commonalities, rather than one of hostility.

In terms of COVID-19, we need to realize that not everyone is in the same boat. Each person’s personal experiences prior to and during this pandemic are different. Some are struggling economically, while others are focused on their mental health. We all want the situation to improve but we may disagree on how to get there. The people who see things differently are just people who you might not understand and who might not understand you.

4. Talk dollars and cents

Money is the great non-partisan equalizer. Everyone understands this language, and solutions that benefit both parties economically can be void of ideology.
Especially in today’s times, when many Americans from both parties are struggling economically, we can empathize and understand each other’s basic needs. This crisis affects people of both parties in similar ways, and with a clear vision of the ends we are all searching for, it is both more important and more possible than ever to come together.

Since your political opponent might be oriented to the world in a different way, progress cannot be made without first trying to understand the depths of where others are coming from. What kind of personal experiences shaped their beliefs? What is at the root of their anxieties? How does your solution or stance affect them?

Start there. Let’s remember that our political affiliation is only one small part of who we are and that as we face today’s crisis, we are one people facing it together. We unite in striving for health and safety, financial stability, and a return to normalcy.

Join us on November 19th for a live webinar with the PGS community, where we’ll present key insights from our recent book, “How to Talk to the ‘Other Side’: Finding Common Ground in the Time of Coronavirus, Recession and Climate Change.”

About the Author / Kevin Wilhelm

Kevin Wilhelm is the CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, instructor at Harvard University, and author of the bestselling book, “How to Talk to the Other Side: Finding Common Ground in the Time of Coronavirus, Recession and Climate Change.” He is one of the world’s pre-eminent business consultants in the field of sustainability and his book details how to find win-win solutions with people who disagree politically and ideologically around issues like public health, the economy, and climate change. His firm, Sustainable Business Consulting, focuses on demonstrating the bottom-line business benefits of sustainability and has led efforts for over 180 organizations, including New York Life, Expedia, Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama, REI, the Cities of Seattle and Tacoma, the Pac 12 Conference, and Angie’s List. His organization, a four-time Best in the World Winner from B Corp, has helped companies offset 100,00 times the carbon emissions of his own firm in the past three years.

About the Author / Natalie Hoffman

Natalie Hoffman specializes in research and communication between differing cultures and points of view. She is a co-author of the bestselling book, "How to Talk to the "Other Side": Finding Common Ground in the Time of Coronavirus, Recession and Climate Change." She often takes on the role of “peacemaker” and her lifelong goal is to bring people together at a mass scale. She is passionate about sustainability and, as a mixed-race woman, embraces many of the perspectives outlined in this book. A songwriter and water polo player in her free time, Natalie is a Seattle native who loves a good bowl of ramen.

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