Adding heat to a tinderbox, even a little bit, ignites a huge raging fire. As the holidays approach, this bears consideration as we gather with people who may have polar opposite viewpoints in our divided country.

I’ve found myself wondering whether it is courageous or crazy to attempt a meaningful dialogue to bridge divides. As someone who desires to bring people together, I’ve had some success with this; I have also set some accidental fires.

Avoiding conversations about delicate matters can be a good idea. I think this is a given in work settings – just don’t go there. Or, if you go in feeling like you need to “set people straight” or change their position – just don’t go there. This deepens the divide.

If you desire to narrow the divide, I recommend a centered curiosity approach. Curiosity is naturally centered (the calm eye in the storm) because being curious isn’t trying to force or change anything; it is just trying to learn. Important to note, alcohol sabotages curiosity and is best kept at a distance from volatile situations.

Curiosity is a very different mindset than outrage, righteousness, or fear. So, for this to work, leave your fact-filled matches in their box, because facts only add fuel to emotional communications. I know that is a hard one to accept, but it is true. Be curious when things don’t jive with what you believe or expect. For example, when a statement of opinion is made “Those people have no right,” be curious and ask, “Tell me more how you see that…”, “How do you experienced that?”, “How do you see that looking ten years from now?” “What is your understanding….?” By sincerely asking what the other person thinks you might learn new information.

At this point, you may be tempted to get your facts out. DON’T DO IT! Instead, ask another sincere question!

“Just like buying a car…you want to explore all sides and the ins and outs!
Nobody is forcing you to buy, and curiosity is not agreement.”

At some point, when you are satisfied that you genuinely understand, then curiously introducing your ideas may open the conversation, for example:  “Have you considered <blank> as a possibility?” Or, “I respect your views, although, I see things differently”.

In my experience, this is the best way to open a dialogue where you can invoke curiosity in the other person. Perhaps, they will be interested in your point-of-view or not! And, if it backfires – it’s okay too.

Centered curiosity is courageous. Crazy throws more fuel on to the fire!   Your choice.

Karen Valencic
Founder & President Spiral Impact