As published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 6th, 2017.
Last year I wrote a post about a book that shifted the way I work with others. The book is called Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently by Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur of Professional Thinking Partners. It’s a book about thinking; how you think, how others may think, and how you can learn to recognize these differences and think together in a positive and efficient way. Everyone should read this book, and I really mean that, because everyone can benefit from learning to think well with others. Collaborative Intelligence focuses mainly on the workplace and how to think efficiently with your colleagues and co-workers, but I’ve often found myself applying its lessons and advice to my relationships outside of work. If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that in today’s deeply divided times, we all need to find a way to think together, even if we don’t necessarily agree with one another. Dawna and Angie’s follow up book, Reconcilable Differences, hit the shelves yesterday, and it deals with exactly this issue.
Reconcilable Differences: Connecting in a Disconnected World, focuses on how to interact with the people who matter most to you in your life. Today, conversations with friends, family, lovers, and/or co-workers can often be a fraught minefield of potential arguments and verbal battles, especially when talking about politics or social issues. How many times have you disengaged from a conversation in order to avoid an argument instead of having a meaningful discussion with someone you love and/or care about? I know I’ve been guilty of this, but as Dawna and Angie point out, taking a step back from these interactions only serves to deepen the divides between us instead of bridging them. We are all missing out on these vitally important opportunities to connect, engage, and come to a shared understanding of each other, right when this communication is needed most. In order to strengthen our relationships, we need to not only strengthen our communication skills, but also learn to recognize, embrace, and work efficiently with other people and their differing communication styles. This is what Dawna and Angie describe as Relational Intelligence: the ability to relate and connect with other people through communication, understanding, learning, and trust. According to Dawna and Angie, these four areas are both the source of our biases and the key to opening our minds to new perspectives.
Communication: Each of us has a unique approach to communication. Recognizing and identifying your own patterns will help you reconcile another person’s.
Understanding: What kind of thinking talents do you have to understand someone else? What do you need to feel understood?
Learning: What do you know about the way you learn, and the conditions that maximize or minimize your learning?
Trust: What stories do you tell yourself and how do they impact your ability to grow apart from or closer to another person? How do you transform those stories to grow beyond mistrust?
Furthermore, Reconcilable Differences offers readers three cardinal rules that help create a new foundation for a discussion with someone who thinks differently: Relate, Respect, and Value Differences.
These rules help us recognize that each one of us has within our brains the hidden capacity to repair the ruptures between us. You can learn to access your Relational Intelligence and reconcile the differences between you and someone you care about.
Finally, once you understand these rules, Dawna and Angie give you one landmark question you can use to dig in and connect. It’s a great and simple question that can open your mind to discover how it could be possible for both parties to learn how to connect and move forward together. It’s really very simple. Just ask in a truly curious tone of voice: “What really matters to me right now?” What often comes to mind are things like: “I speak truthfully,” or “I remember they are family,” or “I don’t just turn away.”
Knowing what matters to you helps redirect your attention from the other person, or the issue you are tackling back to yourself. After this is clear to you, ask the other person the same question, in the same tone of voice: “What really matters to you about this right now?” Lean in, breathe, and just consider what they are saying. You don’t need to agree. Just accept it as true for them in the moment. The possibilities for where you can both go from there are endless.
While reading this book, I kept thinking about one sentence in particular. We as humans are as hardwired to connect as we are to divide. If this is true, why does it feel like the only option we are choosing today is to divide? If we are just as capable of connecting with each other, wouldn’t that option be exponentially better for us, our country, and the world at large? Again, we don’t all necessarily have to agree with each other, but at the very least we need to find a way to communicate with respect and understanding. That’s the only way we’ll all move foreword together, and no matter what side of the divide you’re on, that’s a win for us all.