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Connecting Across Difference: Not for the Faint of Heart

Having hard conversations across difference has been a big theme for me the last few weeks, I've been reading about it a lot, I taught two very experiential seminars on the topic, and I've been writing about in on the Lupine FB page.

To boil a very complicated lifelong learning and doing project down to three key steps, being effective in hard conversations across difference requires:

  1. Soothing your anxious brain so your curious brain can be in charge;

  2. Being fully present;

  3. Connecting with others and establishing your shared humanity.

Easy enough, right?

Alan Alda, whose work after M.A.S.H. I've come to love (see: If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on my Face?), says that he never goes into a conversation without being open to the possibility of being changed by it.

So, #4: Be open to being changed by the conversation.

Easier said than done. For all of us, myself included, it feels like our very identity is at stake, our core beliefs and values are threatened, and that the cost of "losing" is a threat to our very existence.

So where to begin. In relationships that I have that span great differences of belief, personality, identity, upbringing, etc, it really simply begins with anchoring the relationship with something we have in common. Gardening, fishing, a person that we both love, a place we both feel connected to, what we eat for breakfast. Anything.

I may spend a lifetime talking about dogs, and that may be all the connection I can reasonably expect. Or, maybe, slowly, over time, we have enough of a foundation of shared trust and connection and respect that we can begin to explore the things that separate us.

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