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« My trip to common ground | Main | Stacy Cohen's guest comments on using a Flip Camera during coaching »

Finding Common Ground

“Why cannot we work at cooperative schemes and search for the common ground binding all mankind together?” William Orville Douglas

 A few months ago, I had the pleasure of presenting to a group of teachers in Chennai, India. For me, this was an extremely unique experience, and I loved every minute of it. The city was as exotic as you can imagine, with spice and incense in the air, sitar music emanating from buildings, and wonderful Indian food every meal. As I walked in to the workshop the first day, children stood along the entrance holding candles and lotus flowers, and the session began with chanting. The teachers in the workshop couldn’t have looked more different that those I am used to, with all the women wearing saris and sporting Bindis on their foreheads. 

After about 30 minutes into my workshop on the Big Four, however, I had a revelation. This was the most exotic setting in which I had ever presented, and yet, it felt just like any other workshop I had led.  As different as everyone looked, we were all educators, we all wanted our students to be successful learners, and we shared a host of interests, concerns, and passions. We may have looked different, but we were mostly the same.

In our day-to-day experiences, we can easily to lose sight how much we hold in common with others, especially when they let us down, disagree with us, treat us poorly, or stand in the way of us achieving our goals. One important relationship skill is to notice and remember the similarities we share with others.  Being intentional about finding common ground is an important part of effective communication.

The internet offers wonderful examples of people finding common ground. One organization, Playing for Change, creates beautiful short movies in which people all over the world are filmed playing the same songs, and then through the wonders of technology are the recordings are edited to create the impression that everyone is playing the song together at the same time.  If you haven’t seen their videos I suggest you check out the website now, and then return to this text. The videos beautifully illustrate how much each of us holds in common with everyone else.

The Milestones Project is another organization dedicated to helping us find common ground.  Founded by photographers Richard and Michele Steckel, the project assembles wonderful photographs of children from around the world to show, as they say, “a world where what divides us is healed and what unites us is loved by seeing how we are all the same.” If you have time, I suggest you check out their website as well.

Finally, Mike Fisher sent me a note about a useful resource to checkout Forty Successes .This site, created by William Watson Purkey and John M. Novak suggests “forty inviting comments” and “forty disinviting comments. I think anyone should find this helpful if they are looking to find common ground.

The strategies I'm proposing this week, included below, are simple ways to try and find common ground.  I'll write more, soon, about my own experiments with these strategies.

The Strategies

1. Use The Communication Strategies We Have Been Practicing.

(a) commit to finding common ground

(b) pause before responding

(c) reframe ourselves as learners

2. Find Common Denominators; Avoid Common Dividers

3. Use words that unite.  Avoid words that divide.

If you've been trying out these strategies, we'd love to hear what you're learning.

Reader Comments (7)

Jim, thank you for this great posting. In challenging times, interdependence is the State of Mind that will sustain us. What great resources you have offered us!
April 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarolee Hayes
Here is another website that can reinforce the common ground that we can all find in music. It truly is remarkable that we are all connected through this devise wothout barriers of any kind.
April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Stack in Illinois
very simply explained. It is indeed an art to read & stop new visitors with your attractive writing style. I am really impress from your posted information. Thanks for sharing.
May 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterit dissertation
Wow! Finding common ground will definetly transform my experiences this coming year! Dr. Thomas invited me to coffee this morning and we talked of all the opportunities of continuing my education in the coming years. One of the most powerful things he influenced me to do is look up your articles and read your book. (I will be going to get that this afternoon!) Already I know that the advice you offer will be essential to every moment, not just in my school. Thanks so much!
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