By Delphine Pastiaux-Murphy
As our new theme for humankind in 2018, we felt inspired to explore ways to create deeper connections between people, and to start with learning to turn conversations, especially the challenging and uncomfortable ones, into opportunities for deeper interactions.
There’s a wealth of models and organizations to learn from. On the one hand, there are the familiar and powerful frameworks that focus on creating conversations that connect, such as Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, Difficult Conversations by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton from the Harvard Negotiation Project, and MIT’s Otto Scharmer with Theory U.
There are also the formats and training materials for guided conversations that have emerged more recently as answers to the ultra-polarized climate we find ourselves in today: Living Room Conversations, Peoples’ Supper; Essential Partners; Better Angels and more.
These various approaches and formats are each suited for different types of interactions, environments and learning styles. But at their core resides a single underlying assumption:
What creates a deeper experience of connection with someone else is our ability to show up as our whole self in the interaction, and to not limit what we bring into it to the realm of our thoughts, opinions, beliefs built on mental analysis and logical reasoning.
It’s not that these aren’t helpful and sound aspects of a problem-solving process. But effective and collective problem-solving can only start once we have successfully established a backdrop of mutual trust that, indeed, we can work together.
That’s what seems to be missing in so many of these conversations that turn disappointing, difficult or ugly on any number of topics these days, unless we’re talking to people with whom we already more or less fully agree…
So, what’s underneath and beyond the mental realm of building negotiated solutions? What must we first discover (or rediscover) that can move us out of disconnect? What are we paying attention to, while engaged in a conversation? Where does our presence in that moment of exchange originate from, within us?
By increasing our own internal awareness, we are able to bring more authentic parts of ourselves into an interaction and anchor it into a different kind of mutual understanding: a path that doesn’t necessarily stem from agreeing with each other, but, rather, one that is grounded in connecting based on a sense of shared humanity.
From this place of mutual recognition, we can finally work on finding common ground and better navigating divisive, seemingly intractable issues, opening a pathway to tangible solutions. We learned a lot about this in 2017 (learn more here).
Concretely, the various approaches, formats and tools we’ve been learning to use (and using to learn) during our events and gatherings are built on a few defining factors that humankind has also chosen as its operating principles:
- Speak from Experience
- Equalize Voices
- Listen to Discover
- Appreciate Difference
- Learn by Doing
There are others, of course. But after much sharing, learning, and discussion, we chose to highlight these five.
They all express a different aspect or quality of the internal awareness and the kind of attention that creates connection. They are concrete pathways to a sense of connection that allows mutual trust and unleashes creative problem-solving.
For example, over the last several months we’ve been especially focused on learning how to apply two of our principles to difficult conversations:
Our past gatherings such as Living Room Conversations and Peoples’ Suppers have been practical opportunities to discover the absolute necessity to Speak from Experience when we aspire to create a connection with others in a conversation.
It’s not easy to resist our ingrained habits to discuss a topic solely with opinions, data and a rational analysis of it. It takes discipline to speak from personal experience and what we have felt directly. But when we do, we are rewarded with a totally different experience of what a conversation on a polarizing topic can be. For more on these outcomes, have a look at our recent blog post on Living Room Conversations.
Another critical aspect centers around listening. We all have much to learn about what it may actually mean: listening is so much more complex than we usually experience it to be…
What does it mean to Listen to Discover? We’re finding out with our Listening Labs, which are humankind’s experiential activities designed to awaken our awareness of the various levels of listening we can, but usually don’t, access when engaged in the seemingly straightforward activity of listening.
In this post, we’ve mentioned various types of humankind activities that create a safe space for deepening connections through listening better. You can think of these gatherings as “Listening Labs”.
We had another Listening Lab last week, as part of humankind’s first edition of the Second Wednesdays monthly gatherings. Keep an ear out for more Listening Labs in the future (did you hear what we did there?) by following us on social or subscribing to our mailing list, all of which you can do in the footer of our website.