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Listen First: Using Connection and Understanding to bridge divides

Episode 27

As toxic polarization continues to grow and divide us, it is more important than ever to work towards becoming bridgers. Listen First Project is an organization that transforms division and contempt into connection and understanding, despite our many differences, in turn-bridging the divide.

Dr. Graham Bodie, Chief Listening Officer, discusses the research around effective listening and communication, how we can come together, effective strategies to use, and the importance of building an authentic connection. It turns out, throwing data and statistics out during a heated debate rarely yield the results we'd like them to. Who would have thought!

Join us, listen, and learn.

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[Music] 

Noelle: What uuuuuup!

 

Miranda: Welcome to the Unpacked Project.

 

Noelle: We're your hosts, I’m Noelle. 

 

Miranda: And I’m Miranda. 

 

Noelle: We're here to explore all things social justice, it's through casual conversations, interviews and storytelling that we hope to inspire others to take action towards a more compassionate and equitable world. 

 

Miranda: Because honestly, it kind of sucks here sometimes. 

 

Noelle: For real, we can do better people. 

 

Miranda: Alright, let's start unpacking. 

 

[Music] 

 

Noelle: Hi, Miranda. 

 

Miranda: Hi, friend. 

 

Noelle: It's good to be able to see and hear you right now. People don't know behind the scenes that we just spent 20 minutes trying to get your audio working, and now you're on your cell phone, recording this episode. 

 

Miranda: Look, it's something new every time. We just celebrated a year, and something we always talk about is our challenges with technology. And so, I think, the learning lesson through it all is just to remain patient and make it work.  

 

Noelle: Here we are. Apparently, I sound gurgly or something on your end. 

 

Miranda: Yeah, you really do. 

 

Noelle: Before we get into today's episode, we did one, you just talked about the fundraiser that we're running this month. In honor of domestic violence awareness month, we are partnering with the House of Esther, which is a local non-profit organization. and we are collecting goods that are on our Amazon wish list; we're collecting any monetary donations that people would like to give, so that we can provide all of this to Hope Family Services, which is a domestic violence shelter, down in Bradenton, Florida. So, head over to our website. There’s a donation page on our website, www.theunpackedproject.com or our Instagram, we have a link as well in our bio, that leads right over to our website, into the amazon wish list. So, please, we appreciate your donations. Everything that we collect through the fundraiser will be donated on Christmas Eve. Basically, we collect purses, and we stuff the purses with all these items and they will all be delivered on Christmas Eve, to the women in Hope Family shelter. So, really excited about that. 

 

Miranda: Yeah, I really am. I think, we've done some really great fundraisers this year, so something I’m definitely proud of. 

 

Miranda: So, to get into our episode, I’m super excited today for our guest, Dr. Graham Bodie, who's a professor of integrated marketing communication in the school of journalism and new media, for the University of Mississippi. He’s recognized as an international expert on listening and the social cognitive underpinnings of human communicative behavior. And having authored over 90 published papers and outlets within the field, his productivity has placed him in the top 1% of published communication studies scholars. Dr. Bodie's research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the United States army as well. So, Graham currently serves as chief listening officer for Listen First Project, which is a non-profit dedicated to bringing people into conversation, despite their difference. So, something that I’m really interested in learning more of. I know that having conversations with people that have drastically varying opinions can be really challenging, right? And we do talk about calling them in, rather than calling them out. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Graham. We’re happy to have you here. 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: Oh, absolutely, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

 

Miranda: Thank you. So, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, and really just how you got into this work? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: Yeah. So, I was a Master's student at Auburn University, 100 years ago. And was, sort of, was introduced to the field of listening through a couple of mentors. For one reason or another, the scholarship of listening as a communicative behavior was sort of a focus area for that department. And so, fortuitously, just sort of fell in love with that researches. everyone talks about how important listening is, but the degree to which is actually a sort of serious academic area of study, at least in communication studies, it's not always taken as seriously as something to study academically or scholarly. So, I was just excited that I might be like the first one to know something about listening, something about this really sort of important human behavior. And then, when I went on to get my PhD at Purdue, started to study that phenomenon within the realm of social support, so when people are distressed, they go to their friends; what do their friends say? How do their friends behave? Do make them feel better or potentially feel worse? And then did the whole publish or perish thing, got tenure promoted and all that. When I was at Louisiana State University and as I was making the transition over here to the University of Mississippi, to a school that wanted more than just my academic proclivities and expertise, but also really wanted to have a public facing element to my research. 

[05:04 – 10:04]

Dr. Graham Bodie: And around that time, I found Listen First Project on Twitter. and Pearson and I had our first conversation, like two weeks after Charlottesville happened, which was a particularly, kind of catalyst, if you will, for me in the context of working within organizations and seeing the kind of change that can happen rather quickly with people that didn't have the advantages of a college degree, weren't necessarily exposed to the idea that communication is a powerful sort of relationship building capacity, and listening, in particular, can not only help you in your professional career but also in your personal career. and just seeing that kind of monumental change in organizations, when you go in and you sort of focus on how leaders are listening to their subordinates and how people are going into their families and de-stressing from a long day of work, and not always doing a good job of listening to their family members. So, making those kinds of changes and then, kind of, thinking about how might we make those kinds of changes on a more sort of global scale. And then, like I said, I was introduced to ‘listen first’ project, and started to kind of contribute at that level; building, what now is, what we call the listen first coalition, which is over 400 organizations that do this work; do this work of connection and understanding to bridge divides, and kind of leaning into, trying to create a movement on par with things like ‘Giving Tuesday’ or ‘sustainability,’ where we actually see people as humans who are worthy of respect, even if we might disagree with some of their life choices, or some of their policy decisions, or the people that they vote for, or whatever the case might be. 

 

Noelle: Yeah. And I mean, over a number of weeks now, we've discussed kind of this toxic polarization that seems to really be growing increasingly worse by the day. And we've unpacked some of that harmful media messaging and how narratives, whether it's social, political, media based, really continue to create that divide. So, as you mentioned, your work is based upon the skill of listening, right? That probably a lot of us suck at, or like, other things get in the way. We talk a lot about our biases and our awareness of this information that we're ingesting on a daily basis. and I wonder how much of us are actually listening to what other people are saying, as opposed to just kind of being in their own heads with what they're consuming. So, why does your work place an emphasis on the skill of listening? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. I think, first and foremost, again, if you ask a room of 100 people, how important is listening to your personal life? How important is listening to your professional success? You know, 99 people raise their hand, it's important. The 1 person doesn't raise their hand because they want to, maybe, be different, or cause some sort of, be a curmudgeon or whatever. But I mean, most people think and believe and express that this is an important behavior. And yet, we all fail at it every day. I’m the first to admit that I’m not always the best listener that I need to be, with my family, with the people that I work with, with my friends and so forth. And so, it's a lifelong skill; something that we can learn to do, more and more effectively and productively. and that isn't sort of a ‘one size fits all’ that how we listen in our personal relationships isn't necessarily how we ought to come to our workplace, which also isn't how we might come into conversations across difference. And so, we focus on that because in the bridging space, there's a lot of organizations that talk about the importance of listening as part of, the ability to have meaningful conversation. And that's really the thread that kind of ties all these organizations together, in my opinion. That one of the first things that the individuals ought to do, as they come into a conversation across differences, to have a mindset that “I want to really understand this other person,” not as a collection of positions or policy statements or solutions or something, but as a person with life experiences that I might learn something from, that I might actually benefit from sitting with and sort of entertaining, what it is that makes them tick and why it is that they have come to the set of beliefs that they've come to; not to judge or evaluate those beliefs necessarily, but to at least try to understand, from their experiences, why they might have come to a set of beliefs that are potentially at least somewhat different, if not drastically different, than my own set of beliefs. 

 

[10:05 – 15:24]

Noelle: Yeah, and that's such a great, it's really just a mind shift sometimes, right? It’s thinking of the benefits that you can gain from talking to someone with differences than you, rather than them being sort of on an opposing team. Like, what can I gain, what can we both gain from this conversation. So, I’m curious, what have been some of the most important findings through your research, when it comes to how listening affects communication and relationships with others? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: So that, I think, kind of a two-part answer to that, or maybe, you say, what are some of the most important findings? So maybe, two classifications. One is, I mean, so in general, it's just the complexity of this thing that we call listening. if you open any kind of Forbes article, or MSNBC, or whatever the news source that you have, they've got an article on “how to be a better listener?” it gives you the same 5 or 10; be quiet, eye contact, paraphrase, ask questions. they don't really tell you how to do these things, but they tell you and you look, “oh, yeah, I should do more of that thing.” and then, you read the article; 5 minutes later, you're still doing the same things you were, 5 minutes before that, but you have a mindset, perhaps that you ought to be doing something different. But listening is more complex than that. The processes that are involved in receiving and making sense of information are quite complex. Listening is, simultaneously, a set of affective processes, motivational processes, mindset; Miranda, as you said. It’s a way of sort of approaching or a way of being. There’s a whole literature that sort of suggests that listening is a way of being human that's different from, like a ‘speak first’ mentality, a ‘listen first’ mentality, sort of transitions you into being a different kind of human. So, there's these whole sets of motivation or affective processes that are important. There’s a whole set of behavioral processes that are important, but nonverbal and verbal behaviors that you enact, when you take on the role as listener. and then, a whole host of cognitive processes that are involved, that I understand you've probably talked about in some past episodes, with respect to stereotypes and biases, and the ways in which we sort of don't purely hear what it is that other people say, and we attach different meanings, based on who that person is and whether we know them and all these kind of things. So, that's the one set of findings, is sort of this, the complexity of the processes that we go through, when sound waves hit our eardrums and we assume that all of the sounds are getting all of the attention and we're just all drawing the same conclusions, from a set of data. And so, related to that is the second set of or the second notion of complexity, which is that we all have somewhat unique profiles, of what listening is, as a construct, how we define that. When someone says, “what does listening mean to you?” we all have sort of different definitions, what we call implicit theories of listening. So, we have different and unique profiles of what listening is, what listeners do, what are the behaviors that signal to me that someone is being a good listener, as well as how we tend to show up as listeners. There are 4, in the research that I've been doing recently over the past 4 or 5 years, we've found 4 primary habits that drive all of our listening. and depending on which one of these habits is most salient to us, based on our lifetime of socialization, based on our sort of understanding of what listening is in our workplace, or what listening is in our family situation, we sort of knee-jerk or we sort of revert to a specific way of listening. We either listen to connect, where we focus on emotions and feelings, and what the incoming information means to other people. Or we listen to reflect, which means that we process all of the incoming information, based on our own stock of knowledge or our own personal experiences. and we can also focus mainly on what is, or the data, the facts and the figures, or we might filter things through what is possible, which we call ‘conceptual listening,’ which is your brainstormers, the people that, “oh, that makes me think about,” and then you popcorn all these ideas. So, depending on the mix of those 4 habits and how those 4 habits show up in you, it explains the phenomena where 8 people go to a meeting and they leave, having realized that they just went to different meetings, right? And they come with different conclusions from that meeting, and they have different impressions of “who said what” and “why who said what,” and the intentions of who said what, and all these different things. and if we don't realize that we all show up differently, as listeners, we come away from those situations frustrated, with lots of misunderstanding about why Miranda didn't get the same information as Noelle, who didn't get the same information as Graham, when obviously, we were all in the same meeting, why can't we come out of that meeting with the exact same impressions and all these sorts of things? 

[15:25 – 20:06]

Dr. Graham Bodie: And to understand that that's okay, that there's diversity in how we process information, and in fact the best teams have a high degree of cognitive diversity. In other words, they come to decisions a little bit differently, they view problems a little bit differently. And in a nutshell, all of that's foundation is how we listen. And so, the question you asked before that, which is, “why does your work place an emphasis on this?” I’m a believer that fundamentally, most of the misunderstandings and miscommunication that we experience in our daily lives has to do with the fact that we're not all programmed to listen in similar ways. And if we can start to unpack that, unpack maybe, a pun unintended but still relevant here. If we can unpack that amongst our team, amongst our organization, amongst our family, and sort of have a conversation at that meta-level, about what listening is to me and how I prefer people to show up with me, as a listener. And then, we can start up to shift our listening habits, based on who we're talking to. We go a long way toward correcting or mitigating some of those misunderstandings that lead to frustration, and oftentimes, to relational dissolution, divorce in marriages, or breakups in organizations. 

 

Noelle: It's so interesting. And of course, like I’m thinking, “what kind of listener I am?” I’m like, I have all these experiences that am I going through in my head, situations that happen, then I’m like, “that's why we all didn't agree at that meeting,” things like that, that are happening. But the other part of your work that I really like, is the focus on the fact that we can become bridgers, right? That, I mean, like you said, having these cognitive differences can be beneficial to us. I think, a lot of times, sometimes we look at having differences as being as a barrier. But really, it can be something that can make our relationships have more depth to them, and we can get new perspectives, and just grow more and evolve more, as people and as communities. So, I love that part of your work. But I would imagine also that it can be really hard. I mean, for a lot of the reasons that you've already discussed, are there any other things that typically get in the way and sort of become a barrier to being able to engage and connect with one another specifically that people can work on better? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: Yeah. So, I mean, first of all, thanks for stressing this notion of becoming bridgers. It’s not like we're born to be a bridger or we're born to be a divider; it's a choice, either subconsciously, unconsciously, or consciously, that we make. And so, very much like listening, bridging is first and foremost a mindset; it's an identity. You can be partisan, or non-partisan, or a-partisan, or whatever else you want to put in front of partisan, or you can be all kinds of identities. And we suggest that being a bridger, or a weaver, or a listener, or whatever specific term you want to put on, it is a particular identity that you can first and foremost, sort of have a mindset toward. But of course, bridging is also a set of behaviors that we engage in, and distinguish ourselves from people who are anti-bridging or partisan or dividing, if you will. So that, I mean, so that's an important thing. And  what we know from some researches, is somewhere between 65 and 100 million Americans, at a minimum, have this desire to be different than the divisiveness that we find very readily on social media, and even sometimes in our daily existence and conversations with people face-to-face. So the things that get in the way of bridging, I think, there's 4 primary things that I came up with initially. And of course, there's probably more, but these are the 4 that seem most relevant to me right now. The first is power. We’ve got to understand that in any relationship, there's a power dynamic. Me, as a white, this gender, male that comes from the fluent family, who sits in an ivory tower and has a PhD, and all the other markers of privilege give me an ability to say, “wouldn't it be great if we all got together and talked about our differences?” like, it's not the same. I don't have the experiences as someone who's been oppressed or marginalized for the majority of their existence, who might get pulled over by a police officer because they're in the wrong neighborhood, in the wrong car, at the wrong time of day; all these sort of things.  

[20:07 – 25:22]

Dr. Graham Norton: So, I’m the last person to say like, “Hey, let's go sit across from a Nazi.” Like, no, I’m not asking you to go sit across from someone that has an inherent dis-like, as a euphemism, but a hatred toward you because of the color of your skin or the nature of your religion. And so, but even in those sort of gray areas, where we might consider a reasonable conversation across divide, there's still power dynamics and power differentials. And so, where we say, “you listen first.” I wear my bracelet, which I don't have on right now but when I go out of the house, I have a bracelet on it, and the hashtag “listen first” is pointed to me because I’ve got to remind myself that that is what I’m telling myself to do. And I’m not necessarily telling everybody that their job and every conversation is always to be the one that listens. Because women and minorities, and other non-white male cisgender individuals have told people, not like me, that they need to shut up and listen. And so, let's get that out of the way and say like, “that's not our position.” our position is that sometimes, listening is not the answer. And so, we oftentimes, as a bridging community, want to sit beside or behind the activists and the ones that are pushing agendas for reasonable and desirable societal change. So, I’ll just put that out there first. So, power differentials probably get in the way more so, of people on the left, wanting to come to the proverbial table that oftentimes feels already set, by those in power. So, why would I come to your table, if the only thing I’m bringing is my butt in your seat, so that you can say you were diverse? the second thing that gets in the way is fear; fear that this conversation is going to go off the rails, fear that I’m going to be called out for being, “fill in the blank.” when we have, there's an organization called “Braver angels” that does these red/blue workshops. And one of the activities that they do is a stereotype activity, where reds list all the stereotypes that blues have about reds, and blues lists all the stereotypes that reds have about blues. And one of the stereotypes that reds list, as blues having, is that all reds are racist, bigots, sexist, all these sort of negative terms. And it's just not true; just because you're republican, doesn't necessarily mean you're a racist. And just because you're a democrat, doesn't mean you're not a racist. And so, we've got to sort of unpack the fear that I’m going to be called something that I’m not, or I’m going to encounter someone who's going to just be, basically cause trauma, sort of unearth some trauma or life experience that I’ve had, that was unpleasant, and I’m going to have to relive that in a conversation. I think, the third barrier is identity. What the research suggests is that political party has almost become a super identity for most people. And so, talking to the other side is not part of a partisan identity. If you're a republican, you can't get caught talking to democrats because that's bad, for some reason. It’s against my identity as a republican or democrat. And so, when we feel like a set of policies or a set of solutions isn't just out there to be debated as solutions or policies but have somehow, sort of formed those policies into who I am as a person, as soon as you attack that issue, you attack me as a person. and so, then I feel that I have to defend, not only the policy but oh, no, the people that hold this position aren't “fill in the blank.” and I think, a lot of times, our conversations go off the rails because we assume that there is this deep-seated identity, sort of clash between people. And then finally, I think you've got the problem of the assumed goals of a bridging conversation. if you think that the goals of a bridging conversation are to agree or to establish common ground, or to somehow, miraculously, sort of hold hands and sing kumbaya and everybody get along and no conflict at all. Like, conflict is good. Conflict in marriage is good, conflict in the workplace is good, conflict in politics is good. But how we deal with conflict isn't universally good. and so, instead of saying that our goals of all bridging conversations are agreement or common ground or any of these other kinds of goals, then it's more, at least in the initial phases of a bridging set of conversations, is connection and understanding; that I’m just trying to connect with someone that I don't otherwise have an opportunity to connect with; our neighborhoods, our cities are segregated, our zip codes are segregated; and not just by race, but by all kinds of identity categories. 

[25:23 – 30:07]

Dr. Graham Bodie: And so, we don't always have the opportunity to be front facing with people who have different life experiences than us. And so, just connecting with a wide variety of people and then understanding, from their life experiences, what makes them tick and why it is that they are the way they are, and the policies that they support are the policies that they support. And then once we have that friendship, if you will, for lack of a better term, or at least a connective relationship where we can understand where each other's coming from, then we might have another conversation that deals with the policy. and so, I don't know if that's the same barrier but maybe it's a different barrier, but just assuming that we're just going to have one conversation and then everything's going to be solved, like bridging conversations are a series of conversations over a period of time. And for the most part, they're better accomplished when they're done at very local levels, as opposed to some national level. So, I was asked to be on a panel, about 6 or 8 months ago. And my question was, “how can we build bridges at the national level?” and my first response is, “we can't. we can't do that work at the national level, if we're not first and foremost, having those conversations in our own neighborhoods, and cities, and towns, and zip codes, and municipalities.” So, it starts local. and what we know from research is that your opinion about people who are different from you, if they're local, the toxic polarization, the affect of polarization, the perception gap is much less than it is at the national level. And so, we've got a lot of work to do at the local level. But if, I think, if we start there, then we can see how this, kind of grassroots local focused effort can potentially sort of rise up and change things at the grass tops and at the national level as well. 

 

Miranda: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I think, there was so much in that. And so often, we find ourselves in some of these heated conversations or debates, and we really tend to rely on these facts or statistics, thinking that's going to convince someone of the truth. However, research shows that people are much more likely to consider, like you said, other points of view, when there's an emotional connection or a relationship. And so, in previous work, I would do like restorative circles with kids, and we build community in classrooms. and a lot of that is trusting that you'll know what to say, when it's your turn to share, so you can actively listen to whoever else is in the circle sharing. We really focused on building community, getting to know your peers and things like that. So then, when conflict arose, you would be able to deal with it in a more healthy manner, right? Where we're actively willing to listen to each other, even though we are different. So, it kind of reminds me of that. So, “listen first,” they recommend to come from a place of a shared core value, but honestly, it just seems like when we're talking, that's where the divide lies. So, how does this play out when it comes to controversial topics, like abortion, far left far right views, Covid, things like that? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: Yeah. So, I mean, to your first point about relying on facts or statistics, there's some pretty decent research that shows that we use much less data than we think, to form our opinions. what we think we do when we form an opinion about a “controversial topic” and what we actually do to form an opinion about a controversial topic, are not the same. And most of the time, we don't use a lot of facts or data to come to opinions and form our stance on a policy issue. And there's some really good work in deliberative democracy, Jim Fishkin out of Stanford, Stephen Cole out of the University of Maryland, are two pretty well-known names that do some of this deliberative work. and what they show is that the gap between, like a democrat and a republican, you can shrink it pretty drastically, by introducing people to policy briefs that challenge their existing positions and like force them to actually consider facts, that again, they didn't really consider in the first place, when they're forming their positions. And so, it's no wonder that if we don't use facts and statistics when we're on our own, reading media sources and forming opinions on our own, it's no surprise that we are also not convinced when other people lay out a bunch of facts and statistics in a conversation. 

[30:08 – 35:00]

Dr. Graham Bodie: First of all, we can just dismiss them and say, “Well, you got that from CNN, or you get that from Fox news, or you got that from this side or the other.” And we just dismiss it because it came from a particular source. And the second thing I’ll say is that we're primed to focus on difference, and we fail to see nuance and we fail to see patterns of similarity, but we focus on difference. And media is no friend in this regard, either. It’s a lot sexier and it's a lot more click-baity to lead with a headline that suggests difference, as opposed to, “look, how similar people are!” I mean, we're not going to read the article that says, “Everyone agrees on x.” We just skipped that article and we go on to the next article. but there's tons of research that shows, we in fact do have some core shared values, either in a general sense, like we all want safety and security of our family, we all want to belong in the communities that we are a part of, and then even on particular issues. So, the PEW Foundation did a survey in February of 2020, and they're looking at Covid. And they found that, the question of whether Covid’19 is a threat to the economy. 81% of republicans and 83% of democrats agreed that Covid’19 is a threat to the economy. when asked, if their local hospitals and health care professionals were doing a good job of addressing Covid, 83% of republicans and 88% of democrats said, yes. Now, when you ask about the national response, it becomes, “who's in office?” If Donald Trump is president, republicans say, “Awesome.” If Joe Biden is in office, democrats say, “Awesome.” And so, it trends with approval rating, to be honest. And so, whoever's in office, everything's going well if you're part of that team. Even like, requiring masks; if you look at whether republicans and democrats agree that masks should be required on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, 96% of democrats say yes, and you can say, only 71% of republicans agree, but that's a majority of republicans as well. 71% is not a low number; it is a high number. We’re talking about difference, on the positive end of that distribution, of the yes end of that distribution; not a difference in kind, where all democrats say yes and all republicans say no, but a difference in degree, which is, there's a separation and we're oftentimes, we misperceive and mispredict the perception, what's called a perception gap. So, if I were to ask like, “how many republicans do you think wear masks in public?” You would say, “like, barely any,” because the narrative in the media is that republicans are against masks, when in fact, republicans are against mandates; republicans are against things that aren't necessarily about wearing a mask or not. Because in fact, when asked, “do you regularly wear masks?” In February of 21, republicans, 83% percent of republicans said yes, and 93% of democrats said yes; and 88% of the American public said yes. So, 83% again is lower than 93% but it's again on that “Yes” end of the distribution, not on the “No” end. So, even gaps can be misleading because we just say, they're different, as opposed to unpacking the nuance of where that difference is and why that difference might exist. And then the last thing I’ll say there is that, and you're talking, Miranda, about doing this with classrooms, with kids in classrooms. And a lot of the methods that we use in the bridging space with adults, also either comes from or works in the classroom. But we feel like, and this may differ across cultures but at least in this country and in this culture, we feel like we have to have an answer. Like, when someone asks us a question, we have to say like, here's the answer. and I don't know about you, but I don't know a lot of things; there's a lot of things I’m ignorant about, I mean, there's a lot of things that I just don't know. And my 13 year old, when I say, “I don't know,” she'll say, “yeah, but just guess.” 

[35:01 – 40:14]

Dr. Graham Bodie: And there's some degree that we want some certainty in our lives. And a lot of the issues, like abortion and Covid, seem simple on the surface but they're not; they're not as simple as we might want to make them out to be. and so, when we are ignorant of the nuance, when we feel like we have to have an answer, when we're primed to focus on difference, and when we know we're going to go into a conversation with someone that's likely to be on the other side of the political aisle, we put up our guard and we become resistant to anything that they have to say, any facts that they may spew, which goes back to your original point, which is why it's so important, in the initial stages of bridge building, is to do those conversations that focus almost exclusively on shared goals and values and connection and understanding. 

 

Noelle: So, towards the end of all of our episodes, we always like to kind of provide with people, action items or ways that we can work to build these skills because we want our listeners to feel empowered; we want people at the local level to know that there are things that they could do. we always try to focus on like, we're all human, we all have these biases, we all come, like you said, primed for some of these situations where we're walking into it with our own experiences and our own perceptions. And I think, if we can learn ways to be bridgers, to build these connections, to overcome these barriers, then we can connect more meaningfully with people. So, what are some simple effective strategies for our listeners, where they can begin doing this? 

 

Dr. Graham Bodie: It's a great segue to putting some of these theoretical ideas into action. And those listeners that have already listened to the several podcasts before this, already have one thing that they can do, which is to break out of your echo chamber. Now, that doesn't mean, start following Joe Rogan or start following Rachel Maddow. I’m not saying, let's not start following the extremes because I think, part of the problem is the extremes; that most Americans are in the middle, most Americans aren't part of one of these extremes. And the research actually shows that if you are on the left and you start following an extreme account on the right or vice versa, you actually become more tenacious in your own views, and less open to the views of others. So, by breaking out of your echo chamber, I mean, accessing media sources like allsides.com, which present you media stories from multiple perspectives that aren't necessarily, like, from the far left and then from the far right, but give you a variety of perspectives or stories on an issue. So, that's a great website. They’ve got lots of news stories, and they tag them in particular ways that you can use to get out of your echo chamber. I think, the second thing you can do is to join one of these conversations, one of these bridging conversations, and practice with a stranger, before you practice with your friends and family and screw it up. And so, practice with someone where, if you ruin the relationship, it won't matter as much. And then, two things that you can do to kind of, so those are behaviors that you can enact. Two things that you can do for the mindset; first of all, is you can have a mindset to listen to the person, not the position. Structure your conversations around, “I’m just listening for who is Noelle. I’m just listening for who is Miranda. I’m not listening for what Noelle believes, or the policies that Miranda might support, or the person that either of you may have voted for, for president or governor or whatever the case might be.” So, listen to the person, not the position. And then, change expectations. in other words, change the expectations for the conversation you're about to enter, from one, “I’m going to change this person's mind, or this person is going to try to change my mind” to “we might change, but to the extent that I better understand who you are, and have a deeper connection with someone who's a little different than me.” And that's really the only change that we can kind of even hope for, particularly at the beginning stages of these bridging conversations. 

 

Miranda: Awesome. Thank you. I think, some super easy and actionable steps that folks can take, I really take that as be inquisitive, seek to understand, seek to learn, be curious. I think, it all makes us better humans. And we've so often talked about following other social media pages. If you don't have access to people in your life that are very different than you, that's an easy way. So, just to reiterate that. So, kind of to piggyback off what Noelle was saying, “Listen first” project has many campaigns and initiatives, so what are a couple that our listeners should pay attention to? And what would you encourage them to participate in? 

 

[40:15 – 45:28]

Dr. Graham Bodie: So, the first thing I would say is listenfirstproject.org and sign the pledge, which is simple. The pledge reads, “I will listen first to understand.” And then there's a period and there's no other words. It’s bare bones, it's very hard to argue with that a pledge, I’m sure someone can, but it does two things. The first thing it does is, you've got an active voluntary commitment to put a mindset of listening first. And the second thing it does is, it signs you up for our newsletter, which will, well, at least once a week on Friday; we typically try not to blast too much. We do one newsletter a week, on Friday. It introduces you to one of these 400 organizations that are in the coalition, something that you can do that weekend, moving into the following week, to be a better listener, to be a bridger, to start practicing some of the behaviors that are in this notion of being a bridger. And if that inspires you, like if that's enough for you, that's great. I would also say that of those 400 organizations, most of them are over on this platform called “citizen connect.” and basically, it's a calendar of all of the events, mostly virtual right now, that you can sign up for, register for and attend. Most of them require very little of any pre-preparation. It’s not like you have to read a book or watch a three-hour documentary before you go into these conversations. Most of them are self-contained within an hour, on a Tuesday evening or Saturday morning or whatever the case might be. And then looking forward to 2022, our big collaborative co-creative event is called “America talks” national week of conversation. So, national week of conversation is a week of events, running from April, the 24th through April, the 30th, where all of the “listen first” coalition partners program some sort of event to go along with that week. and we kicked that week off with a Saturday event called “America talks,” on Saturday April, the 23rd, where we match you with someone who's different from you, and you have a one-on-one conversation with someone who probably lives in a different part of the country, likely voted for a different political candidate; or if they didn't, they likely support or don't support certain policies that you might support or not support. And so, we pair you with someone who's different from you, in some way, so that you can have that experience of a conversation across difference. So, those things there, but if you sign the pledge, all of this information will be in your inbox about once a week. 

 

Noelle: Very cool. I love it. We’ll definitely make sure that we get all of that up on social media, and make those dates and those different events accessible to our listeners. So, Graham, this does bring us to the end of our episode. Thank you so much for joining us today. I think, a lot of our goals on this podcast are just like, how we can be better people and have more self-awareness, so that we can start bridging these divides and engaging in these connections. And I think, you just provide so much useful, like research, in terms of even, for I’ve learned many things today, during this episode, that I didn't know before, just in terms of our own listening and tendencies as people but then also what we can do to be better listeners, so that we can build better communities. So, thank you so much for coming on today. We really appreciate it. Listeners, make sure to check us out on YouTube; like, subscribe and share. And as always, head over to our Instagram and Facebook pages, for content and information in between episodes. Next episode, we will be joined by Vanessa Machado. I don't want to butcher her name. Vanessa Machado de Oliveira Andreotti, but she says it much better, who will be discussing issues of modern colonialism and ways to move past crisis and towards collective healing. So, thank you so much for joining us today, and we'll see y'all in a couple weeks. 

 

[Music] 

 

Noelle: Show the Unpacked Project some love and be sure to like, subscribe and review our podcast. You can also check us out on Instagram at the_unpackedproject. 

 

Miranda: And if you enjoyed today's episode, visit our website at theunpackedproject.com where you can make a donation that supports the research production and operating costs of this work. 

 

Noelle: Shout out to all of our listeners who unpacked with us today. 

 

Miranda: See you next week. Peace.