5 Tips for Talking to the "Other Side"

There are many different types of people in the world, but in the framework of the work we are doing here at Common Party to address the issues that divide us and the commonality that can reunite us, we have identified 4 basic types:

  1. Those who don't care.

  2. Those who don't hope.

  3. Those who care and hope so much that they want to fight for their solution.

  4. Those who care and hope so much that they want to work together to find a solution.

We have encountered few of the first type. The vast majority of folks today seem to be concerned in one way or another.

The second type are increasingly prevalent unfortunately. They see no realistic solution on the horizon, and believe that we are destined for some impending disaster. Of course, we hope (and believe) that they are wrong.

The third type is passionate, committed, and powerful. Our goal is to help them to transform their ire into something more productive and collaborative.

Though we have not conducted the type of national survey that equips us to make this assertion with authority, our sense is that the fourth type represents the majority of Americans. These are people of conviction and devotion. They are alarmed and involved. They are compassionate, and they believe in the ethos of unity and equality on which the country was established.

But while the majority of us are desirous to work together and resolve the tensions that face us, the issues are complex and contentious, and the task of productive dialogue is not easy.

Therefore, we can all use guidance to help us negotiate the road ahead, and we can look to the experts - those who have long been engaged in cross-cultural dialogue and conflict resolution - for tactics and tools that will enable us to directly communicate and collaborate with those who view the world differently.

Chris Satullo is one such expert. Co-founder of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, and former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial page, Satullo has significant experience with strong opinions and civil dialogue. Several months ago, Satullo prepared Five Tips For Talking To The Other Side.

His tips are straightforward and pragmatic. They include:

  1. "Don't seek to convert or win" - our goal with this type of personal engagement should not be conquest, but connection. The first step is to build a relationship.

  2. "Start with story" - rather than launching into direct debate, begin with something humanizing to which both you and your counterpart can relate.

  3. "Frame questions as invitations, not confrontations" - a question should be a genuine attempt to learn something, rather than a challenge to provide either a right or wrong answer.

  4. "Avoid 'fact wars'" - much of what we disagree on is a matter of opinion or emotion. Jousting with facts may not be the best way to help us to understand one another.

  5. "Admit doubt" - Humility and openness are invitations to honesty and vulnerability. If we are certain that we know everything, then we have nothing to learn from anyone, and few people are interested in that type of dynamic.

Read Satullo's article here to explore his tips in his own words and with more detail.

For those seeking a more in-depth exploration of communication dynamics and resolution techniques, you might refer to Marshall Rosenberg's brilliant and seminal book Nonviolent Communication.

And if you have any suggestions for other resources, or anecdotes of successful conversations with "the other side," we would love to hear them. Please leave a comment.

Marc Erlbaum, Contributor


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