Seek Common Ground

Guest Blogger: Ken Byler, Owner, Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC

If you want to disagree with someone there are plenty of opportunities. In an era of information overload, we can find “facts” to support whatever position we wish to hold on nearly any topic. That makes it easy to assume we are right and “they” are wrong.

In a workplace culture, competing ideas, perspectives, and beliefs can easily become a flashpoint for arguments, lack of collaboration, and stressed relationships. When we believe a co-worker is misinformed it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation.

“If we only focus on differences, it’s difficult to notice how much we share in common.”

We must admit that defending our version of the “truth” is actually part of the problem.  

Insecurity Gets in Our Way

Polarizing issues have been around for centuries and aren’t going away. Our own insecurities are one reason we hold so tightly to personal beliefs and positions, even in the face of evidence that raises some measure of doubt.

There is a level of vulnerability required if we are going to open ourselves to new ways of thinking. The need to be right, to protect our self-interest, can be a powerful influence.

What Does Common Ground Look Like?

When we disagree with someone, it should be obvious that our belief that the other person is dangerously misinformed is one perspective we share. Of course, that’s just the beginning.

Most of us can agree on basic human values like safety, fairness, liberty, and truth. But, our approach to achieving these values will often be quite different.

Here are a couple of ideas for finding that illusive common ground.

Be curious rather than corrective. It’s easy to point out the perceived flaws in another person’s argument. One way to suspend this need is by asking questions. Explore how they arrived at their position. Don’t immediately dismiss their initial response. Ask more questions. As they share, notice any places where the two of you are in agreement.

Be kind rather than cruel. Holding a different set of beliefs doesn’t automatically make another person dangerous. When we show respect for an opposing point of view without becoming emotional or defensive it can be disarming for the other person, and for ourselves. We might even find ourselves being empathetic to their position, when we better understand it.

If common ground becomes the ultimate goal for the conversation, both parties can feel psychologically safe to have a meaningful dialogue. When the need to win is replaced with a desire to understand, any disagreement becomes less adversarial.

One complicating factor is the era of “fake news” that often becomes the focal point for the “facts” as we know them. If both parties believe their sources are reliable, then arguing any case from this perspective will be dubious. Our need to be right won’t matter if we apply it for the wrong reasons.

Common ground only happens when relationships are the focus. Our human need for love and acceptance can’t flourish if all we do is label each other and our differing views as dangerous.

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