I was inspired to learn that this week is National Week of Conversation (“NWOC”), hosted by the #ListenFirst Coalition. The 2021 edition is the fourth annual effort and is endorsed by 300+ organizations who invite all Americans to “listen, extend grace, and discover common interests” among one another. The goal of the week: To defeat toxic polarization and heal America by transforming division and contempt into connection and understanding. Indeed, an inspired mission that I am glad to sign onto.
Certainly, our ambitions to bring people together, to celebrate both commonalities and differences, to learn from one another, to encourage our family, friends and neighbors, need not be limited to one week only. We should aspire to engage in this type of authentic interaction always.
In honor of NWOC, here are a few ideas to help you foster meaningful dialogue with others:
- Pick a person. To get started with your conversations, you need someone to converse with, right? So, identify someone – could be a former colleague who you haven’t seen in years, could be your dear old Aunt Sally, could be a pal you saw this morning at the gym, could be a prospective client who you’ve been meaning to call. Whoever it is, invite them for a cup of coffee, in person or virtually, and get your conversation scheduled.
- Actively listen. Commit yourself to listening twice as much as you speak. You might even prepare a few questions to get the ball rolling. The topic could be about summer travel plans, the return to a physical workspace, family matters, work-related challenges and opportunities, the sky’s the limit. Of course, you could also wade into more fraught territory by launching into politics, religion, race and identity, or the media. However, know your audience – if you yourself are not willing to answer the questions you are asking and/or if you can’t have a civil dialogue about difficult topics, maybe leave them off the docket for your conversation.
- Follow up. Did you promise to share some information or a referral or a link to a website? Did you commit to scheduling a follow up discussion? Did you circle ‘round, yet, to honor your commitment? Do it. You will build trust and earn social capital that money cannot buy. Bet your contact will even be willing to have more conversation with you!
Want more information about NWOC? Check out these handy, non-partisan resources: America Talks, Livingroom Conversations, and AllSides. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to one of my favorite organizations, American Public Square, which convenes non-likeminded people to improve the tone and quality of civil discourse and create paths toward actionable common ground.
Enjoy your conversations. Happy Networking!