We’ve been doing lots of thinking about the power of conversations as means to create lasting social change.
In partnership with the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the Breakthrough Conversations Project, we’ve engaged in rigorous research and testing of one of the most powerful social change tools known to progressives: the simple conversation.
We focused on conversations between family and friends who had different views about difficult topics like gay marriage, immigration reform, abortion. We studied what can happen when we are willing to share our experiences and opinions, and then ask our family and friends to take action on the issues we care about.
Along the way, we learned something interesting: When people are different from us, with different ideas and opinions, changing someone’s mind is like a road trip.
1. The car has to be well-packed.
If you going to go on this journey of changing someone’s heart and mind, you have to start with some common ground. You must be willing to take risks in order to gain the rewards that the relationship promises.
2. Choose the best time to go.
Difficult conversations are better when then are well-timed. Look for openings – whether its events in your own lives or in the culture — to create common ground and open the conversation.
3. Go together.
Recognizing that conversations about differences are difficult, keep in mind what you have in common: your interest in the relationship.
4. Conversations are the route you travel together.
Sometimes the road may meander. But as long as you travel the path together, you’ll find that conversations are effective at changing attitudes and behavior.
5. You can bond over little things, like tunes & snacks.
More often that not, it’s the mundane things that we build our relationship on that really bind us. Keep it personal, real, and ordinary.
6. Make use of the scenery along the way.
If the issue you disagree on is visible in media and popular culture, point to it. Visibility helps make the idea more familiar.
7. There are no shortcuts.
Changing hearts and minds is a process. It takes time, and a sequence of steps, so be patient.
8. You’ll arrive at a great destination together.
As we spoke to folks who’ve traveled this road, we heard time and again that it was worth it. Friendships were stronger, families closer and people more able to simply be themselves.
Take a journey with someone who is different than you, and you will change the world.
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Photo courtesy of BusBank.