Britain and America: How to connect when people don’t agree with you


In the recent British referendum and the ongoing American Presidential campaign, we’ve all had a front row seat to one of the biggest misunderstandings in the West, namely, that most relationships, good and bad, are forged from the erroneous idea that we have to be the same to get along.

In fact, conflict is considered so antithetical to the human experience that when others disagree with us, we conclude that they must be stupid or ill informed. To justify this position, we find it necessary to debate them, demonize them, and announce their ignorance to the world. In our minds, conflict can be resolved only with I win, you lose.

The key to a more holistic relationship with anyone is to conceive of the relationship as a “thing in itself” and to focus on the “space in between”—the glue that holds it together—especially when you do not agree with each other.

Better together
Once you view yourself as part of a bigger whole, you will begin to act differently toward others. By making this one simple change of perspective and offering yourself as a vehicle of service to the connection, you will easily find the Bond that is always present and embrace difference within that larger experience of connection.

The scientific evidence shows that people who fire together wire together; whenever a group works together for a common goal, the brains of all parties begin to get on the same wavelength, strengthening the Bond within the group. Coming together in small groups with a superordinate goal provides a social cohesion beyond money, job, or size of property. A common and larger purpose creates instant closeness in any social setting and offers an excellent tool for maintaining cooperation in your office or neighborhood.

Furthermore, as many experts in conflict resolution recognize, working on a shared problem helps to unite people who are in opposition on other issues. For instance, the Search for Common Ground project managed to connect two sworn enemies, the Macedonian Slavs and Albanians, by encouraging them to work together on a project to clean up their local environment.

Here’s now to have conversations, post-Brexit or during the US campaign, when you’re speaking to a member of the other party.

Using dialogue to overcome deep divides
Create a safe environment. Get the other party (or parties) to agree about what subjects are comfortable to discuss and what conditions make it comfortable. Then lay down ground rules enforcing these conditions.

If you are meeting with more than two people, form a circle with your chairs before you begin. It’s often helpful to elect one person to be the mediator, to remind participants, who are often schooled in the art of debate and competitive point scoring, about which conversational tools help maintain supportive dialogue.

The mediator should be alert to potential arguments, name-calling, stereotypical behavior, unfairness, or disintegration of the process. He or she should also keep time and ensure that the conversation stays on point.


  • Build trust by sharing goals and reasons for participating.
  • Frame the dialogue as a series of questions, not topics to be debated or discussed. Plan questions in advance.
  • Start out with a single question. Give everyone a chance to answer.
  • Go deep, but don’t debate. The purpose is not to reach a decision or have a debate, but to explore and share deeply.
  • Don’t monologue. Each person should have an upper limit of time in which to put forward his or her view.
  • Be alert to your own emotional reactions, particularly to those whose views differ from yours. What does that surge of emotion say about your own views or prejudices?
  • Engage in deep truth telling about what really matters to you in your community—or indeed your country.
  • Be fully present. Listen with heart and mind.
  • Don’t be judgmental, no matter how different someone’s worldview or actions are from yours. Just describe the actions or view and your response to it. (“When she does X, I feel Y.”) Talk only about what you think and feel, not your assumptions about how the other person thinks and feels.
  • Root out misperceptions and stereotypes in your views of others during the process.
  • Avoid generalities (“always,” “never”), and speak just to the facts: what happened in particular circumstances.
  • Make it personal. Tell stories from your own past, which helps to place your interests and point of view in context. Speak always in the first person rather than on behalf of a particular point of view. Telling our own stories puts a human face on issues and helps to forge connection. Describe certain key turning points in your life, your heroes, role models, parents, or parent figures. Reveal what you most dream about.
  • Ask open questions unrelated to the area of conflict in order to get to know the person whose views differ from yours. This helps to solidify trust.
  • Reflect back what you think the other person has said.
  • Frame questions about a contentious issue in neutral language, without implied judgments. Instead of asking “Doesn’t your health care plan care about the millions of American children not covered by health care insurance?” say something like “What do you believe should be done about children not covered by health insurance?”
  • Look for common interests, emotions, values, or experiences that emerge in the conversation. As time goes on, you will be amazed by the similarity between your core values and interests and those you have considered your opponents.

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One comment on “Britain and America: How to connect when people don’t agree with you”

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