Breaking Through to Real Communication
‘Karen and Jay share thoughts on how to break through and turn your conversation into a meaningful opportunity for true communication.’
Conversation can be great communication – when it’s done the right way. Yet, how many times have you found yourself engaged in what you think is a conversation – but really turns out to be just the two of you talking past each other. Neither really connecting. Each of you trying to convince the other that you are right – or that your recommendation is the only way forward.
When this happens, here’s a simple phrase that can often change the dynamic and cut through to create real communication. With deep earnest feeling, say ‘Well then, what do you suggest?’ And really mean it. Express a sincere interest in learning what the other person is saying, what they are thinking; and even trying to understand why – in other words, the motivations and values that underpin their position. When you try this approach, don’t be surprised if the other person is momentarily taken off guard, then collects himself – with the knowledge that you will truly be listening. And when this happens, the stage is set for genuine two-way communication.
A little over four years ago, two political scientists came up with an experiment they wanted to test out. A year away from another presidential election they wanted to see what happens when you put a diverse group of people in a room and let them discuss their opinions. These two political scientists named James Fishkin and Larry Diamond believed that the echo chamber of social media permits us to not listen at all, and that division is more a perception than a reality. When we’re face to face with those with whom we disagree, we’re likely to talk less and listen a little more. It was done as a test to see how people actually feel, when they’re not dependent on sound bites from 24-hour news cycles and surrounded only by people with whom they agree or share something in common. So the political scientists partnered with a nonpartisan group and a few research teams from the University of Chicago to raise the money necessary to invite a whopping 526 people from a across the United States and with a diverse set of backgrounds, to an all-expense paid trip to Dallas to give their opinions.
It took a few weeks, but eventually it all came together. Everyone arrived in Dallas almost four years ago to the day. You had 9 people named John, 10 people who identified as living in a trailer park, 13 who identified as wealthy, 27 who identified as extremely conservative, 30 who identified as extremely liberal. This gives you some idea of what they were going for. And, so over the course of three days, this group of Americans broke out into small discussion groups and debated topics from foreign policy to health care, immigration, the economy and the environment. As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock for all involved. Many groups were pretty silent to start, and even some arguing. Yet as James Fishkin put it to the group upon arrival, “We’re not here to talk like policy wonks, we’re to share our life experience. When we share our stories, we too are making an argument for something.” One woman shared a story about how a piece of controversial policy kept her dad alive after a cancer diagnosis, while a man in the same group said it had cost him a lot of money. Their group laughed when another participant stated, “Well now I can’t argue because of what your dad dealt with.” As the weekend went on, debates were had, and there were disagreements, but what the event organizers noticed is that everyone was listening. Participants were surveyed throughout the weekend and an overwhelming majority said they were shocked to find as much common ground as they did.
On the third and final day of the event, the organizers took note of a 24-year-old African-American man who was a cashier from Michigan, laughing and having conversation with three 70-something white men in his group. In another instance, they observed a 69-year-old retired nurse from Atlanta buy a drink for a woman she’d just met from San Antonio, who was turning 35 that day. There were pairings you may never have imagined anywhere else. And ultimately, it all came through listening a little bit better. As one woman put it, “I don’t think the purpose of this conference was to change people’s minds. I think the purpose of this conference was to get people to accept each other’s points of view in a civil manner.”
So, next the time you’re in a conversation, take a moment to listen. Reach out and ask the other person, what are you thinking? What do you suggest? Really mean what you’re saying – and then listen with purpose and intent. In so doing, I think you’ll find a warmth and satisfaction – as well as a sense that you are truly communicating!
New Hampshire Voters – Suggestions that Shape the Nation
New Hampshire's "First in the Nation" presidential primary is a critical event in our American presidential election process. It traditionally takes place early in the election year and plays a crucial role in shaping the race for the presidency. Given the opportunity for ‘one on one’ communication between voters and candidates, this particular style of dialogue holds a special place in the U.S. political landscape. It provides a crucial opportunity for voters to engage with candidates directly and assess their qualifications for the presidency while also giving the candidates a chance to ask the voters “what do you suggest?”
Here, real people in New Hampshire can have real conversations with candidates and evaluate how candidates can earn their votes and probably most importantly – determine if they are listening to what was just said and noting how they respond. In addition, some historical one-on-one conversations during the First-in-the-Nation New Hampshire primary have played a pivotal role in shaping presidential campaigns and, in some cases, determining the course of the election. Here are some notable examples from history:
In 1960, then young Senator John F. Kennedy engaged in small group and one-on-one conversations with Granite Staters in small towns across the state. This approach helped build a personal connection and ultimately led him to win New Hampshire, which was critical to his path to the presidency.
In 1992 - Governor Bill Clinton was a candidate from Arkansas who embraced the Kennedy style of campaigning in the Live Free or Die State. Because he could cover a lot of ground with limited resources, Clinton was able to build a relationship with voters, and his second-place finish in the primary earned him the nickname the "Comeback Kid," putting him on the national stage and ultimately helping him win the presidency.
In 2000 - Senator John McCain launched the ‘Straight Talk Express’ town hall tours. This approach to answering tough questions and listening to the people of New Hampshire helped him win the First in the Nation Primary by double digits, and he repeated this success in 2008, and would then go on to win the Republican nomination for President.
As candidates visit New Hampshire this cycle, we are seeing an uptick in town halls. From New England College in Henniker to Senator Scott and Gail Brown’s NO B.S. Backyard BBQ’s in Rye, candidates are put to the test by the people of New Hampshire, and the time-honored tradition of asking tough questions is helping candidates earn each vote and make their mark in history.
With the possible exception of Iowa, no other opportunity in presidential politics allows for this kind of retail politics and truly puts candidates to the test when they are seeking the highest office in the land. Moreover, given the highly informed nature of the New Hampshire electorate as well as our strong sense of responsibility, the ideas and advice we share with candidates, undoubtedly serves the nation well and prepares candidates to move forward with additional insight better prepared for what lies ahead.
Coffee and Conversation – in the Granite State and Beyond
It's truly amazing how coffee and a conversation can break down barriers. From a general meet-and-greet to closing a business deal, the ability to share a cup of Joe really helps create a culture of ease while being productive. Maybe it's the hot coffee that warms your soul, or it’s aroma that helps create the magic. The role coffee plays in our community is so intrinsic to how we communicate with our friends, colleagues, and those we wish to engage with. Could it be a fundamental aspect of society? What would the world be like without coffee shops? Personally, I wouldn't want to go without a cup in the morning, and I'd be lost without the chance to have amazing conversations by meeting in a coffee spot.
I recall during my time on the campaign trail, I would visit Dunkin' Donuts across the Queen City of Manchester. On Webster Street, I would see my great friend, the late former mayor of Manchester, Ray Wieczorek, holding court, talking to residents, and listening to their suggestions, all while having a cup of Joe. Or even more recently, I've been meeting with Presidential candidates on a bus or in a coffee shop to hear their thoughts on issues facing the Granite State and our nation, often with a small hot medium roast in my hand. It goes beyond just my own day-to-day life; coffee – and the setting it engenders - truly is a helpful part of so many communications.
I also recall former State Representative Bob Lancia of Rhode Island holding monthly coffee meetings at the local Panera Bread. Or Rich Girard, while serving the city of Manchester, being invited to a meeting of the minds of local Ward 6 residents at the Candia Road Dunkin' Donuts. Recently, a friend of mine has been growing his book of business by holding one-on-one meetings with prospective clients at his neighborhood Starbucks. I suspect you may have your favorite neighborhood spot as well – where locals gather to share good thoughts and conversation.
There is a reason why more than 35,000 Starbucks exist in over 80 countries and over 9,500 Dunkins ‘help America run’! They serve as an opportunity to converse out of which often come some amazing new thoughts and distinctly positive energy.
Positive Profile of the Week: Chris Frost
This week we are delighted to highlight a welcome addition to our team - Christopher Frost, a community journalist who recently joined the Eagle Times in Claremont, NH. A native of Freeport, Long Island, Chris came to Claremont from Oxnard, CA, where he most recently served as the publisher of the Tri-County Sentry. During his six years there, the paper's circulation grew from under 500 to nearly 7,000.
Throughout his career in community journalism, Chris has achieved similar success, having worked in nine other local media markets across the country. The secret to his success? Engaging with the community.
Chris joined the Eagle Times in mid-July, and since then, has become a familiar and visible presence in the community. He has been covering events that had long been forgotten or dismissed as unimportant by prior media practices and standards. Additionally, he reports on essential governmental and other meetings, ensuring that citizens are well-informed about the activities of their public officials.
The results of his efforts have been remarkable. Chris, in collaboration with his new and talented colleagues, has significantly increased the amount of local content published in the Eagle Times. They have also successfully reconnected the paper with segments of the community that were abandoned long ago.
When he attends a community event, Chris watches, listens, and asks questions. He often surprises community members who are not accustomed to seeing anyone from the paper. He frequently tells them to please get used to seeing his face around town because, as long as he's part of the community, they will continue to see him.
From stories covering driveway permits at the zoning board to local dance classes and stories about lawsuits between towns and developers, Chris Frost understands that each of these topics is important in its own way to the community, and he ensures that the community is well-informed about them. He grasps the essence of community journalism and how it can create new pathways for bringing people together along with new ideas.
We are delighted and enriched to have such an experienced and talented journalist such as Chris to be taking an intensely active role in our newspaper as well as our community. Thank you, Chris, for your great sense of curiosity and your dedication to the profession of community journalism!
Quotes of the Week: Conversation and Truly Listening
"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought and attended to my answer." - Henry David Thoreau "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." - Peter Drucker
"Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet." - Krista Tippett
"To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also." - Igor Stravinsky
"The art of conversation lies in listening." - Malcolm Forbes