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The Right Way to Talk across Divides

Fishbowl discussions

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.


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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.


    The danger of the polarized mind
    The danger of the polarized mind

    The so-called 'polarized mind' is defined as a fixation on a single point of view while excluding all contrary opinions. 

    This fixation will often result in mindlessness, which ma...

    Factors leading to a polarized mind

    Fear and anxiety are two main factors that can lead to having a polarized mind. This is to say, whenever people feel extreme fear, they tend to be defensive towards others. 

    Moreover, this kind of behavior can be recognized in extremists who, as a result of their own trauma, end up wanting the total control.

    Polarization today

    Nowadays, polarization has enabled the revival of authoritarianism, a real threat to our society. 

    In front of such danger, the dialogue between people sharing contrary points of view can prove extremely useful, as it allows individuals to become more open-minded and, therefore, to find solutions in order to fight the danger of the polarized mind.

    Difficult to convince

    It can feel impossible to persuade someone with strong views. This is in part because we look for information to confirm what we already know and avoid or dismiss facts that are opposed to our core...

    What resonates with your opponent

    We all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find convincing, and wrongly think the other side will be converted. It is pointless to argue a point that your opponents have already dismissed.

    The answer is not to simply expose people to another point of view. Find out what resonates with them. Frame your message with buzzwords that reflect their values.

    Use moral framing

    To try and sway the other side, use their morals against them. People have stable morals that influence their worldview. 

    However, reframing in terms of values might not turn your opponent's view, but can soften his stance and get him to listen to counterarguments.

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    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.

    Disagreements with a huge polarizing effect
    Disagreements with a huge polarizing effect

    It is common to disagree with peers, friends, family members and even strangers. Normally, it is harmless banter and one gets along fine with people with a different taste in pizza or a basketball ...

    Anxiety and threat during heated discussions

    Divisive topics, especially politics and religion, are by definition loaded with subjectivity and have no worldwide consensus.

    This creates an inherent threat in the participant, as the moral, religious, and political values start to lose ground, creating anxiety and extreme reactions, like unfriending or blocking the person having a different point of view.

    Different views: right vs wrong

    Different moral values make the person view the discussion as a right versus wrong or good versus evil fight, in which it is natural to make an enemy out of the other person, who is now being looked at in a different light.

    Philosophy and truth

    We think philosophy has a role to play in identifying and correcting the disconnect between perception and reality with regard to politicians’ trustworthiness. By providing a theory of lying and tr...

    Augustine on lying

    Augustine (354-430) was one of the first to define a lie explicitly as the intent to deceive.

    Augustine argues that lying is not permissible regardless of the circumstances that provoked the lie.

    Kant on lying

    Kant defines a lie as an “intentionally untruthful declaration”.

    Kant identifies truthfulness as an utterance that accurately represents one’s thoughts (including one’s beliefs), regardless of whether those thoughts are themselves accurate.
    Kant argues that lying is not permissible, but he allows for engaging in deception through careful word choice or evasion.

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    Improve Any Relationship
    • Acknowledge the opinions, feelings and needs of others
    • Be more open to suggestions and compromises
    • Give 100% of your attention to the job
    • Spend ...
    Thomas Hobbes explained

    Hobbes, an English philosopher, believes mankind's nature to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short as described in his book, The Leviathan.

    This is why people adhere to social c...

    Moral issues

    The 'Show, don't tell' rule is especially pertinent when it comes to immoral acts.

    Until a book becomes moving pictures, any moral issue with it doesn't seem to reach national press levels, because it shows these contentious issues to a wider audience.  If you show the act, but don't tell anyone what to think about it, the fact that an author or film-maker hasn't clanged down a big sign saying 'And this is bad' is tantamount to advocation. 

    GoT's similarities with the Leviathan

    A Song of Ice and Fire might very well deliberately echo Leviathan. The notion that, without protection from the Iron Throne, the land falls into an every-man-for-himself struggle does echo the ideas laid down in Leviathan. 

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    Origins of the non-violent communication method

    Marshall Rosenberg developed a practical strategy for peaceful conflict resolution called non-violent communication. 

    By focusing on language and process, the theory goes, in...

    Observe and recap

    The Non-violent communication (NVC) process begins with neutral observation.

    In conversations, this is most easily done by recapping what someone has said, without emotional input.

    That means not attaching any judgment or “story” to your response.

    Describe emotions, not positions

    For NVC, talk feelings, not issues. 

    The hard part in nailing this step is expressing only your own emotional turmoil, rather than translating your emotions into blame. 

    Describing feelings of concern, fear, heartbreak, rage, dismay, or confusion are useful.

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    1800: Jefferson and Adams
    1800: Jefferson and Adams

    The outcome was so bizarre, the United States had to amend the Constitution.

    • The election of 1800 saw Thomas Jefferson tie with his Democratic-Republican "running mate" Aaron Burr. Both...
    1824: 'Corrupt bargain'
    • Andrew Jackson won the popular vote by less than 39,000 ballots and took 99 Electoral College votes. John Quincy Adams secured 84, William Crawford won 41, and Henry Clay had 37.
    • Clay, with the least votes, got the boot, and his supporters shifted their support to Adams, who would go on to win the majority of the House vote.

    After his inauguration, Adams selected Clay as his secretary of state. Jackson accused Adams and Clay of a "corrupt bargain."

    1860: Nation divided

    The 1860 election was notable because it ripped the long-dominant Party (and nation) in half.

    • The Democrats were unable at their 1860 convention to establish an official party line on slavery.
    • At a second convention that year, the Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, but many Southerners in the party selected Breckinridge as their man. Both would claim to be the official Democratic candidate.
    • Lincoln snared 40% of the popular vote but took most of the North in the Electoral College.
    • Douglas was second in the popular vote but took only Missouri.
    • Breckenridge took most of the South.
    • Bell's middle of the road policies earned him the middle of the road.

    In 1861, delegates from South Carolina, and six of the Southern states formed the Confederate States of America and selected Jefferson Davis as their president.

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