Resource: Bridging the Gap
Passing a resolution often requires creating alliances with people and groups you might otherwise disagree with, but who share your interest in protecting and restoring Bill of Rights protections. The tips below can help you bridge the gap between unlikely allies.
Observe body language.
When a person gives non-verbal signals s/he doesn’t want to be bothered, back off. Look for changes in a person’s body language, and tailor your message accordingly. Make sure your body language demonstrates openness and approachability
Don’t take for granted which side of the issue the person is on.
People you might think will be your allies may not befriend you. Others who you might think are on the opposite side could surprise you. Stop labeling people liberal and conservative or Democrat and Republican. Ask where the person or group stands on particular issues and concerns. Their positions may be different from their political party’s stances.
Find common cultural ground.
Finding common ground with the person or group you’re addressing can help ease a conversation about an issue on which you might disagree. Common ground could include where you grew up, hobbies, religion, job, or other interests. You can also find common ground in personality styles. For example, if you are an outspoken extrovert, it may be easier for you to speak with someone who has a similar mode of relating. Same if your manner is more subdued—you may find more common ground with another introvert.
Learn as much about the group or person as possible.
Do research in the library, or on the Internet—learn about background, voting record, and specific interests. Read the group’s literature. Learn how they frame issues. Ask others about the group or person and weigh that information along with your own research, recognizing that the person you ask may have their own biases.
Be careful with your language.
No personal attacks. Stay away from labels. Keep your tone calm and issue-oriented. Make your points without emotional outbursts.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Learn where your audience is coming from. What kind of reaction do they have to what you have to say? What is causing them to feel the way they do? Come up with reasoned points that address their perspective and concerns.
Make a personal connection.
Share some of your personal feelings about the issue—for example, why you’re moved to advocate for a particular point of view. Speak from your heart and make it personal.
Don’t sacrifice your own integrity. You don’t have to lie or pretend in order to bridge the gap. Holding your own center, and sticking with your own values is imperative. If your values blow with the wind, you’ll lose respect.
Be an active listener.
You don’t have to fill all the silence with talking. Make room in the silence for listening. Ask questions to draw people out. Don’t ask “why” questions such as “Why do you feel that way?” “Why” questions shut people down. Instead, ask “how” questions. “How does that make you feel?” “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” “How do you plan to solve this problem?” In your own words, tell them what you hear them saying and ask if you’ve understood them correctly. Ask them to elaborate. Make it a goal to learn more about how the other person regards the issue, rather than to tell everything you know.
Identify which elements of your issue have broad appeal.
You may be able to find a narrow slice of agreement on an otherwise controversial issue. Start with the square foot of common ground and develop your personal relationship on that cornerstone. Then begin working towards enlarging the discussion.
See the forest, not just each single tree.
Remember the broader goals of the peace and social justice movement. We are working for peaceful co-existence and survival. When you focus on our broader goals, you can reach everyone who cares about life on this planet. Ask, “If we continue with the course we’re on, what will the result be?” Ask, “How would you reach the goal of peaceful co-existence?” Bring them into the process, and brainstorm together.
Get your ego out of your discussion.
This is about the issue, not you. You’re not going to win awards for how many words you pump into the conversation. This isn’t about winning a verbal sparring match—it’s about developing relationship.
Be prepared to establish a long-term relationship.
True change of heart comes from more than one interaction. Bridging of the gap is a long-term process, not a quick fix.