MSNBC host Joshua Johnson noted that this year has been full of strife, with Americans having a lot to stand up about. Whether the slaying of unarmed Black men and police brutality, or healthcare, and the coronavirus, Americans are lining up to protest.
Johnson asked if people try to start tough conversations, how do they keep it productive, and when it’s time to give up. In her book, We Need to Talk, Celest Headlee explains tools that people can use to have productive conversations about tough issues that help move the needle.
“Keep in mind that a protest isn’t a conversation, right?” she first began. “That’s a different kind of communication. The first thing is that our goal in conversations is not always a productive one. In other words, oftentimes, we go into these conversations hoping to change somebody’s mind or convince them that they are wrong. You’re just never going to accomplish that. There’s no evidence. We haven’t been able to — through years and years of research we haven’t been able to find evidence that over a conversation somebody said, ‘You’re right, I was completely wrong.’ You’ve convinced me. So, we have to stop trying to do that. We have to find a new purpose for those conversations.”
In her 2016 TED talk, Hadlee makes the case that people who disagree should talk to each other more often, but letting it devolve into an accusatory mess isn’t helping anyone. Truly listening to what people think and feel is what often changes minds.
“I personally think that the best purpose for a conversation is to try and listen,” said Johnson. “Where do you think most people would do better in terms of their purpose for a tough conversation?”
“I mean, yes,” she agreed. “If you’re listening, then you’re learning from the other person, and we always have something to learn. Sometimes we forget that. The other thing is if we find some kind of commonality, that means we have a chance at creating an empathic bond. Empathic bonds to change hearts and minds. They do it over time. It’s rarely an epiphany that strikes somebody like lightning. Creating that common bond with another, finding the things you do at least agree on, even if it’s tacos or dogs, that’s sometimes enough.”
Johnson quipped that he doesn’t want to talk to any person that doesn’t like dogs.
It’s an argument that many have made, but those who disagree argue that it’s impossible to “listen” or “understand” a racist, as an example. But it’s a tactic that Blues singer Daryl Davis employed for over three decades as he moved 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan to give up their robes.
See the interview below and Hadlee’s other videos:
Hadlee’s TED Talks: