Disarming Conversations

by | May 26, 2022 | Nonviolent Communication

I was recently listening to a woman sharing about what’s worked for her when it comes to bridging differences in her politically divided family, and I wanted to pass on a few nuggets of learning.

She leans liberal politically, but lives in a part of the country that is very heavily conservative. At a family dinner, people were talking about some hot issues, and she asked them where they were getting their information from. They shared that they’d heard it from Tucker Carlson on Fox News.

Teasing them playfully, she said, “Oh, you mean from Faux News?” Her uncle responded, “Uh – where’s that coming from?”

She replied gently, “You know that much of what you watch on Fox News is entertainment and opinion, not journalism, right?”

This led to some indignation, further back-and-forth conversation, and much google searching.

A deeper conversation began to take shape – one about the nature of journalism, news reporting, freedom of speech, and the ways in which we can be easily manipulated when we stop thinking critically about what we’re consuming.

As a family, they began to look more closely at the editorial guidelines, financial operations, and stated objectives of various news and entertainment sources. A week later, when she showed up for dinner, they were watching the BBC.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to make a point for the BBC or against Fox News here.

I am, however, hoping to illustrate what it takes for us to drop our enemy images of one another and instead investigate together, learn together and think critically about what we’re consuming – no matter what part of the political landscape we each currently call home.

This family didn’t get stuck in self-righteousness or identity politics. They did not create enemy images of one another. They did not attack, coerce, dismiss, or scorn one another.

They shifted …

  • from which news station had the most accurate reporting, to whether any of them report neutrally or accurately anymore – and how we might assess that.
  • from us versus them polarization to family members thinking about and examining more complex issues together.
  • from defending and resisting to opening up to new information and more complex thinking about how we’re all vulnerable to being manipulated.

When we treat each other with care and curiosity, our conversations change. When we enter all conversations willing to hold what we think we know lightly, willing to share our perspectives tentatively, and willing to be changed through our own learning, our conversations change.

We’re able to help one another examine more deeply, consider more perspectives, and come up with conclusions that work for the broadest range of diverse humans possible.

Seeking out larger truths matters. Lies and misinformation are toxic to the human spirit and erode our collective sense of well-being and health from the inside out. Knowing the difference between a fairy tale, a fable, a farce and a fact is really important.

No matter what conversations you want to be having:

1. Set a clear intention to win over allies, not arguments. 

Credit goes to Kasia Urbaniak for this phrase. Be on the side of the collective well-being of humanity. Make a commitment to seeking out what’s true, not to being right or proving others wrong. When you can drop your need to be right, to have it all figured out, and enter into these conversations with a willingness to grow, learn, and change yourself – in the service of discovering what is more true than what you may have thought before – it will support you in being less fearful and reactive when you’re handling highly charged topics.

2. Arrive with a willingness to be changed, yourself. 

Learn together. No one likes to be told what is right and wrong by someone else. We humans have deep needs for choice, freedom, and autonomy. Meet those needs in all conversations. Stay away from words and phrases like “have to,” “should,” “must,” and “obviously.” They contribute to shame and defensiveness and will make any conversation harder to have.

3. Bring your most relaxed and emotionally regulated self, especially when the subject matter stimulates fear in you.  

Allow yourself to know and track what you feel, without losing power over your feelings. Power comes from being fully present to “what is” in any given conversation. Speak in kind, respectful and curious ways. Ask questions. Be playful. Assume good intent.

Want to learn more? Join me for 12 weeks this summer. Registration is now open for the Full membership summer intensive Moving Beyond Us vs. Them.

If you’re not already a Full member, now’s an excellent time to try it out – you get the first three months at a 20% discount.

At the heart of our summer intensive we’ll practice dropping the enemy images that we hold of ourselves and others.

Sign up, dive in, and join us.

Let’s transform the world together, one conversation at a time.

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