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The Right Way to Talk across Divides

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.


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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.


    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.

    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.

    one more idea

    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.

    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.

    2 more ideas

    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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    Mindfulness is not a magic panacea

    The inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction proclaims that mindfulness may "be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years...

    Mindfulness has been repackaged

    Although mindfulness originated from Buddhism, it has been stripped from most of its teachings. 

    What remains is nothing more than a self-help tool to help one get used to the very conditions that caused the problems. While is it a noble aim to reduce stress and anxiety, it is more important to acknowledge and address the underlying cause of the suffering.

    The message of the mindfulness

    The message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause is in our mind - a "thinking disease" or a kind of attention deficit disorder. 

    Rather than discussing how attention is monetized and manipulated by corporations, mindfulness advocates to view the crisis as an internal battle. The result is that we meekly retreat into the private sphere without critically engaging with the causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.

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