Bridging the Divide

Recently, I read a post of a coaching acquaintance on LinkedIn. She was re-sharing someone who was warning against vaccination as in their world-view it causes autism. The rationale that was given was that vaccines contain mercury – the post also warned against Covid-19 vaccinations. I quickly found the relevant information on Snopes and without thinking much about it I posted it beneath: no, scientifically speaking, vaccines have not shown to be linked to autism and “mercury” and mercury salts do not have the same toxicity (as far as I know). You cannot believe the ensuing nightmare of accusations and abuse I faced after this post. Being accused of acting as a “paid troll” by the CIA (or something) was one of the most harmless replies. Threats, belittling, attacks on my person – as much as I tried to stay calm and rational, a discussion was very difficult.

This sent me down a research rabbit-hole trying to find out what on earth can be done to further constructive conversations in these situations and I am still in the middle of said hole, but I thought I’d share my preliminary findings. You might find them useful when you are in similar situations or even when you are talking to people at work who hold very different viewpoints from you.

Try the “Angry Uncle Bot”

Karen Tamerius, a psychiatrist and founder of “Smart Politics” has researched how to have constructive discussions across political divides. In a nutshell, she advises to:

  • ask questions rather than replying with your own worldview
  • ask follow-up questions to show that you are listening
  • reflect back what you heard
  • highlight areas where you agree
  • share your perspective with a personal story

In my above example, I should have asked about what my colleague was worried about (health of her children, presumably), asked how her children were doing (maybe), agreed that children’s health is very important and then shared my experience of having mumps in my childhood or my experience in high-school chemistry with sodium in metal form burning on water and sodium in salt which we consume daily (or something).

Read about Loretta Ross

I was able to interview Loretta Ross for the ICF Germany podcast on her concept of “calling in” instead of “calling out”. The podcast is published on January 8, 2021 at Coachfederation.de/podcast. She advocates “calling people in” instead of “calling them out” on their mistakes. “Calling in” happens with love instead of with anger. She recommends:

  • start with self-assessment: are you calm enough, are you not feeling too hurt to have the conversation?
  • ask yourself what is it that you would like the person to change
  • make sure you are skillful enough to have the conversation with love
  • talk to the person in private not publicly
  • stay calm
  • use a non-threatening starter phrase: “I don’t think I understood what you were trying to say… ” or “Everything was going well in this conversation and then the temperature changed. Can we go back and find out what happened when the temperature changed?”
  • ask for the change in an understanding way: “I used to call people (insert the offensive word), too, but I have learned that they prefer to be called (better term), so now I use that word”

One of the prerequisites here is not to assume the worst in people, but assume that they have good intentions but might not be educated enough about what offends others.

In my above case I should have thought about the people in this discussion MUCH more before simply (and arrogantly) posting a Snopes reference. I should have talked to the person privately, not publicly, at first and should have connected with my willingness to have a real conversation.

That all does not mean that we should not state our views online – I think, though, that if we are open and collaborative, we might contribute more.

I will stay on this topic for a bit — currently reading about people who helped others out of cults and hostage negotiators, finding out what I can learn there. When I’m done, I’ll let you know.

Do get in contact if you have anything that you would like to share or join one of our free meetups.

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