In the aftermath of the recent Presidential election, I’ve noticed a lot of hand wringing about talking to people who think differently about politics. The seemingly vast divide between voters in the United States is startling for a lot of people. Progressives in particular are seeking out multiple ways to meet their opposite by creating meet ups with conservatives from Churches to social media to Applebees.
While I applaud people’s intention to find common ground and to listen about how people feel about things, I think it’s largely a waste of time.
I say this haltingly but I believe it is true. My friends, associates and colleagues interested in meeting up with their mirror opposite mostly seem to want to find a common ground to discover a way to understand a perspective for the purpose of changing the other person-not themselves. When we do this, in this respect, we become little different than the expert political pollster who fields a survey or a focus group to find out ways to have their candidate appeal to their opposition’s likely voters.
In authentic dialog as I think about it, finding common ground is a low bar to set when it comes to engaging different people and ideas if you are interested in transformative change. Understanding the other is vital but without a merging toward a shared new perspective and vision for the future, simply understanding the other is nice but I believe a dialog fail. Finding common ground doesn’t accomplish what we need in order to move the country or a community forward.
In our book Preparing For A World That Doesn’t Exist-Yet, Rick Smyre and I talk about the importance of Connective Thinking that is essential in a world that is ever more complex and speeding up. When things speed up, we run into more situations where we need to understand how things connect for a community or organization. To move beyond an impasse on an issue it’s less about getting everyone to embrace an existing idea and more about putting the ideas together and creating a new solution informed by diverse perspectives. We need to be able to listen and see some value in something others are saying. In the 21st century; perhaps the most important skill leaders need is an ability to see and spawn connections. We need to create schools that create these capacities in students too.
Rick Smyre and I also advocate an advanced kind of dialog called Futures Generative Dialog. In this kind of dialog process we can more easily achieve connective thinking by framing conversations in future trends and “weak signals”. Weak signals are emerging new ideas, inventions and innovations that are not yet recognized as trends, but have the potential to make an impact on society. A futures generative dialog requires an understanding of how to make connections and challenge assumptions. For complex issues, we believe futures generative dialog is both essential and the missing ingredient in a lot of policy debates that get stuck in polarities.
As David Bohm reminded us dialog is a “stream of meaning, flowing among, through and between us…out of which a new understanding will emerge and which may not have been in the starting point at all” it’s something creative and this is what holds people and communities together.
We won’t create solutions by talking past each other and if you are lucky simply finding common ground. If you want to go to an Applebees to find a way to fix the country by converting your opposite to your own point of view, Stop…and just get a piece of pie.