How can we listen and find common ground when it’s so loud and divisive?

In a world that is so divided – and divided in so many ways – along political lines, racial lines, and competing self-interests, how can we start listening to people who are so different from us?

How can we try to listen to their needs? How will we ever find common ground?

We are all just trying to make our way in the world. Many people are trying to eke out a living and barely get by or continually fall further into poverty. Many people want to thrive and feel the joy of exercising their talents. And there are plenty who are doing just fine but still think they are on the edge of survival.

Parts of the world are crowded and there is a lot of competition for resources. It is only natural to have self-interest and to hoard resources if we believe that others might take away what is ‘rightfully’ ours (think income, taxes or personal rights).

For those who want to connect and be curious, what is there to do?

How can we engage when we ourselves and others may be in survival mode? It isn’t necessarily easy! Even if it is necessary.

Survival mode is a response to a state of mind. There are plenty of billionaires who act like they are in survival mode, which makes them possessive and wanting more, more, more even if they don’t truly need it to survive. Then there are plenty of poor people who are generous and would give the shirt off their back to help someone else.

What is the difference? Mindset. An abundant mindset or a scarcity mindset. Mindset is not dependant on reality; that greedy rich person may just be operating from scarcity while that generous poor person likely believes in abundance and has a sense of having enough.

What does this have to do with listening?

When we are in a scarcity mindset, it drives us into survival mode: the emotional brain takes over and drives our focus on self. In that state, it is hard to listen, it is hard to hear what others need. It is hard to be compassionate. Because the brain keeps an internal dialogue going about “what about me?”

So back to the questions, what is there to do?

First – check our own mindsets

We need to check ourselves and our own scarcity mindset and survival mode. Can we believe we have enough? What else do we need to feel safe?

Create safety for others

To invite others to the conversation, we need to help them see that the conversation isn’t going to lead to them losing. For example, white people engaging in a conversation about systemic racism will not be able to have the conversation if they believe they will have to give up everything in order to start being fair. People who have been convinced that a certain vote means that their neighbourhoods will be unsafe or that others will take what belongs to them will be in survival mode and it will be hard to have a conversation.

How do we invite others out of the haves and have nots debate and instead, help each other find out what we need? Really need; not what we covet but what we need to feel that we are safe and that we will indeed be able to take care of ourselves and our families.

Tap into your more evolved brain

The bottom line is that we need to tap into the best part of our brain so that we can work with our emotions instead of letting them drive us and keep us from listening. Bring the emotions to the table too, of course. But we also need to be able to manage them if we want to hear others. Remember that we do that better when we feel safe.