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How to Share Ideas with People Who Think Differently
Human beings are tribal creatures. Fact is, belonging to a group has been protective for us - for survival, and also in crafting a sense of connectedness and meaning.
What’s also true is that we sometimes sacrifice logic and reason in order to bolster our belonging within a group. We see this in sports, political parties, religions, genders, countries of origin, racial groups... and even our alignment with certain musical genres.
Humans will go to great lengths to remain part of groups because of our evolutionary hardwiring. For this reason, simply representing some aspect of “difference” can feel threatening to others on a biological level.
As a species, we have a long history of persecuting those who are different and punishing them for it.
When you belong to a group that has a belief about the world and you think differently, your position within that group is jeopardized. A “novelty penalty” is extracted. A few iconic examples of this phenomenon include:
- Galileo championed the fact that the earth rotates daily and revolves around the sun, and was met with opposition from within the Catholic Church. He was tried and tortured by the inquisition and spent his later life under house arrest.
- Martin Luther King Jr. spearheaded the Civil Rights movement in the United States and was met with terror daily and ultimately assasinated. Today we see the Black Lives Matter movement along with many other activist groups continuing the fight for equality.
- Malala Yousafzai won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for risking her life advocating for female education in Pakistan. She was shot when she was 15 and survived. Womens’ right to education and equal status remains an issue of grave concern across the world.
The skill and courage to make the case for new and different ideas is invaluable to human evolution. Our progress as a civilization is dependent on people figuring out how to break ranks from their group and connect with people who feel differently than they do.
Did you know that Darwin was not the first theorist to present the theory of evolution? He is the most well known, but there were many others before him who didn’t have a strong PR team and a way to effectively communicate as he did. Those who came before him suffered grave losses.
- Muslim scholar Al-Jahiz (year 860) was the first person to figure out evolution and was banished. His patron was executed.
- French Scientist Bernard Palissy followed in the 1500’s and was arrested, flogged, had his books destroyed, and was burned at the stake.
- There were 28 others that came before Darwin who met similar fates.
This single example illustrates a wider truth. In order for science and progress to take hold, it takes many lives and many lifetimes of going against the grain of dominant groups to create change.
In 2022, division of humans due to cognitive bias and group allegiances only continues. It gets in the way of rational thought, meaningful dialogue, reason, and human progress in a variety of arenas that are critical to our shared future.
When someone takes the time to effectively put an idea into the world that challenges other points of view, positive things can happen:
- A well thought out delivery of a new idea neutralizes cognitive bias.
- Regularly interacting with new ideas and diverse viewpoints increases our capacity for creative thinking.
Planting Seeds of Change
When you are seeking to communicate across differences, proceed with empathy. It’s important to remember that when we’re talking about our beliefs, we’re also touching in on a core human need for membership and belonging.
A primary tactic for reaching across a divide is personal storytelling.
Sexological worldview theory tells us that when someone is opposed to or suspicious of those with a sexual identity that is unfamiliar to them, spening time and getting to know a human who represents that population is the best way to help overcome bias.
When we humanize ourselves and our ideas through personal storytelling, we allow others to attach to an element of observation. One of the reasons that Darwin was effective was due to his extensive use of drawings and storytelling. He used language like “you might notice that…” when talking about what happens when chickens cease to be afraid of cats and dogs
Inviting the listener into your world to observe, notice, and be with you in the exploration of new information overrides aspects of hardwired bias. When doing this, it is important for the communicator to speak in a way that both acknowledges and overcomes emotional resistance. To that end, analogies, illustrations, and plain, accessible language are all helpful.
Humanizing ourselves to those who are different from us may not necessarily be a quick fix. It’s a starting point, however - a process of planting seeds. Those seeds need to be continually reinforced, and may take time to sprout.
Skills For Bridging The Divide
1. Take the time to learn about how bias functions in the human mind. This is a vast area of study and it is essential to understand how and when our wiring to “stick with the herd” gets activated.
2. Familiarize yourself with the backstory. People often blindly assume that the thing or system they are familiar with represents the best option. When you want to convince someone of a new idea or approach, tie back to the history of the idea itself.
3. Be empathetic. Sometimes individuals who are harmed by the system or approach they are currently part of also feel emotionally attached to it. “The devil you know” may offer some form of protection, either real or perceived. Honoring this fact can help soften resistance.
4. Point out the cost of inaction. Humans are creatures of habit - many people won’t so much as switch brands of soap, even when they don’t actually like the one they are using! It is important to remind the listener that doing nothing in response to a problem could be harmful to their wellbeing.
5. Welcome diverse opinions. Get into the habit of coming to the table, asking questions, meeting half-way, brainstorming, and throwing wild ideas out just to shake up a situation when positions have become entrenched in black or white thinking.
6. Establish common bonds. Look for points of connection and agreement. People with whom you disagree may actually have the next best idea. It's important to remember this as well! Diverse perspectives are needed, and we all possess the capacity to problem solve.
7. Employ patience. When you seek to bridge divides, your time, effort and words are never wasted. Seeking connection and making openness your default approach is a long game. Remember that you’re planting seeds.
Want to Become a Coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.