The Right Way to Talk across Divides

Constructive engagement

Constructive engagement

Constructive engagement involves cultivating goodwill between the parties involved.


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The Right Way to Talk across Divides

The Right Way to Talk across Divides


Key Ideas

Constructive engagement

Constructive engagement involves cultivating goodwill between the parties involved.

Fishbowl discussions

This exercise involves members of one party sitting in a circle with the other group sitting around them. The outside group listens quietly while the inside group answers a set of questions.

After each side answered and listened, the moderator brings them together for conversations about what everyone learned. Data suggests that despite strong views, participants change their attitude toward one another for the better.


We regularly find ourselves engaging with people whose core beliefs and values differ from our own. We might want to convince them to adopt our point of view, but this can lead to unproductive conflict.

However, people who disagree passionately can be easily trained to have productive interactions.

Improving conversational receptiveness

It involves using language that signals real interest in the other person's views.

  • When people appear receptive, others find their argument more persuasive.
  • Receptive language is also contagious as the other person will be more responsive in turn.
  • People like others more when they seem receptive.

    Receptive words and phrases

    Signs of receptiveness:

    • Acknowledgment: "I understand that..." or "I believe you're saying..."
    • Hedging: It is indicating some uncertainty about the claim you want to make. "Going forward with this decision might..." is better than "Going forward with this decision will undoubtedly..."
    • Positive terms: "It is helpful..." works better than "We should not..."
    • Words such as "because" and "therefore" can set an argumentative or condescending tone.



    Win the black belt in political argument
    • People think emotionally, so forget facts
    • When people are asked to explain their beliefs about how a given thing works, they’ll actually become less confident...
    Changing our minds
    Changing our minds

    While most of us generally agree on the fact that individuals do not really change their mind, or at least not that easily, recent research has shown that this is quite inaccurate.


    The "psychological immune system"

    We rationalize the things we feel stuck with.

    It seems like we free up mental space to get on with our lives by deciding things are not so bad, after all.

    Coping with changes

    Facing and eventually coping successfully with changes can make people go through all kind of emotions that finally lead to them changing their mind, in order to better adjust to the new situations.

    Thing that is perfectly normal, as it is easier to live at peace with your current life than oppose it endlessly and know only frustration.

    When trying to get your point across...

    ... avoid negative language.

    Using negative words will activate and strengthen your opponent's frames and undermine your own views.  Successfully arguing a point requires you to ...

    Mental frames

    ... are structure that are represented in the brain by neural circuitry. Frames shape the way people see the world, and consequently, the goals they seek and the choices that they make.

    Mental frames and decision making

    They are extremely powerful, because most of our actions are based on the unconscious and metaphorical frames we already have in place. And once a frame is in place, the boundaries of that frame and the associations of that frame are all taken into account in our decision making.