If it seems like everyone is angry all the time, it’s not your imagination. People really are on edge. Spoiling for a fight. Quick to take offense. And of course, some are quick to give it.

Political conversations are a minefield. And that’s spilled over, don’t you think, into other parts of our lives. How do you suppose we can get back to being able to just talk to each other?

We might take a cue from a group called Changing the Conversation Together. Yes, their focus is politics—ours doesn’t have to be.

I’m going to ask you to let go of what side they’re on. And what side you’re on. Because these people are up to something, and we can all learn from them.

They call their work “deep canvassing.” It’s a whole new way to approach going door-to-door talking to voters.

You know how traditional canvassing works.

The candidate or the consultant hands eager volunteers a script and sends them out to knock on doors and deliver the message. They’re expected to show up at your home and recite the script verbatim.

There you are, chilling on a Saturday afternoon. (Or cooking dinner on a Tuesday. Oy.) The doorbell rings … and you find some well-meaning volunteer on your front porch, yapping at you like a walking, talking robocall.

Are you interested? Are you persuaded? Are you ready to rush to the polls and vote for their candidate? Not likely.

Deep canvassing is different.

The CTC volunteers learn an alternative way to talk with voters, especially the ones who don’t see things from the same perspective. In fact, those are the very people they most want to engage—the ones who are all in for the other side.

Deep canvassing is not about spewing your candidate’s positions or citing endorsements or even promising results. Instead, the deep canvassers are direct, and kind, and they listen to pull these “other” voters in. The goal: engage them in conversation.

The volunteer might start by telling a story about their own experience, maybe a personal story, even one that’s a little bit embarrassing. They open up to this stranger who’s answered the door. They share something about themselves.

The deep canvassers would tell you sharing a personal story is the second most important thing they can do to change someone’s prejudice, to loosen up a person’s firm opinions, to move toward common ground.

The first-most important thing?

They invite the voter to share a story too. To tell something about their own experience. To reflect on what brought them to the position they hold.

And the volunteer listens. Really listens. Without pushing back, without arguing, without citing data to support their point of view and shoot down the other person’s. They’re not just waiting for the noise to stop so they can “deliver the message.”

Their goal is to connect personal experience to politics. They’ve proven that when they personalize the issues, they can maneuver over, under, or around the barriers between political parties. Between candidates. Between the pro- and the anti-anything.

These conversations build bridges, albeit sometimes small, rickety ones.

When the deep canvassers show up as human, they say, that’s when they can have an impact. That’s when they can change somebody’s mind, or at least open the possibility of finding common ground.

Here’s the lesson for us.

 When it comes to changing minds and hearts, what doesn’t work?

  • Facts, even the ones you think should be persuasive
  • Arguments, even logical, well-founded ones
  • Opinions, even yours

What does have the possibility of changing the way someone thinks and feels?

  • Respect
  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • Genuine interest in them
  • And of course, listening

As I read about the progressive group’s work, it struck me that this whole idea of changing the conversation has value way beyond the world of political campaigns.

Think about how often you’d like to change a colleague’s mind. Maybe it’s about how to handle a fussy client … or where to find the next sale. Or how to fix the policy about the breakroom refrigerator.

Or maybe your boss is dug in, with a point of view about you and your position in the organization. A point of view you’d very much like to change. How successful have you been, marshalling the facts to support your case?

What about the prospects who clearly need your services? They don’t know it, though—because they have no idea how much better things could be for them. And they’ll tell you all day long that they’re doing just fine without you and your offering.

How would you change their minds?

If you’re thinking it’s about making your message more powerful and persuasive, think again. Oh, I’m all for being powerful and persuasive—you know that’s the basis of my speaking and individual coaching.

And, I’m keenly aware that even the most magnetic message only gets you so far.

What are the words that will convince someone to see things differently, to try something new, to change their mind? The words that come out of their own mouth.

The key to creating a shift is listening. That’s how we change the conversation.

We’re ready to listen to you.

Post a comment below about how you might use the “deep canvassing” approach to find common ground.