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relationships first

Talking about . . . relationships


How we treat each other is the difference between a great place to live and a bad place to live. We shape our world through relationships. Most people agree we want communities where all people have dignity and respect. Yet respectful interactions are often not what we see modeled in the media and in politics. And far too many people feel disrespected in their lives. What is our role in these dynamics?

Click here if you would like a pdf of the following topic material to share with your cohost and friends.

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Background reading (optional)

Heart and Head: Relationships Matter

While you don't need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic. 

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Want to listen to an actual Living Room Conversation?

We have many podcasts and videos of actual Living Room Conversations, on many topics.  Click HERE to listen or view.

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Now that you are all together, here we go!

This Living Room Conversation flows through five rounds of questions and a closing. Some rounds ask you to answer each question. Others feature multiple questions that serve as conversation starters — you need only respond to the one or two you find most interesting.

Before you begin your conversation, please go over the Conversation Ground Rules with your participants.

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One. Why are we here?

What interested you or drew you to this topic?

Two. Your core values

Answer one or more of the following:
  • what sense of purpose or duty guides you in life? What is your mission statement?
  • what would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you tick?
  • what are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country, now and long-term?

Three. What are your thoughts on relationships?

Remember that the goal of this Living Room Conversation is for each participant to listen to and learn about the different opinions within the group to see where you might share interests, intentions and goals. 

Answer one or more of the following questions:
  • have you ever seen or been in a conversation where people were not listening to each other? How did that turn out?
  • have you ever taken a position or voiced an idea that was very different from a group you are part of? How did that feel? Or have you ever decided against speaking out because it just wasn’t worth the repercussions?  
  • describe a friend or relative with whom you are able to talk about hard things in a respectful way and “hold the tension of your differences.” What is the difference you have with this person — and why do you find it worthwhile to talk in this respectful way together?
  • when have you used respect and listening to resolve a problem? Did it work?

Four. Reflection

Answer one or more of the following questions:
  • in one sentence, share what was most meaningful or valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation;
  • what new understanding or common ground did you find within this topic?
  • has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?

Five. Accomplishment and moving forward

Answer both of the following questions:
  • name one important thing that was accomplished here;
  • is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?


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Heart and Head: Relationships Matter

Human dynamics that affect the way we work in the world

Emotion vs. Intellect- Experiments have revealed that often our intellect is in service to our emotions.   In other words, first we have a gut reaction and then we justify it.  Heart and intellect impact how we hear each other.  If you like someone you will listen to them with greater openness and an inclination to believe them.  If you hear the same thing from someone that you do not know or do not trust for political or cultural reasons, you will be far less likely to hear or believe what they say.  

Our natural drive to conform to community norms- There are basic instincts that reinforce our tendency to listen to people in our community and dismiss information from people outside our community.   In ancient times people that promoted ideas considered dangerous or too different were shunned or ejected from their community.  Ejection from the community could lead to death.   The instinct to conform to community norms is hard to overcome for most people.  

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way.

Listening is one of the most powerful ways to develop rapport and ultimately be heard.  People that feel respected and heard tend to listen well in return.

Respect is key for good relationships and problem solving.  Eye rolling, talking over people and other forms of disrespect dramatically diminish the ability for people to work together for a common goal.

Build on shared values- The reason Living Room Conversations start by asking individuals to share some personal values is that most of us share core values.  Once we recognize we share key values we tend to listen to each other with greater interest and empathy.  

Holding the tension of our differences is a discipline that is worth developing. People may disagree strongly on some topics yet be able to work together productively in other areas.  And when we are able to understand viewpoints that are different from our own this sometimes reveals opportunities to solve problems in ways we had not thought of. In fact at times different priorities may create opportunities for people to craft win/win outcomes.  

Cognitive Dissonance- In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas.  Liking someone you disagree with can create some discomfort.

Benefitting from everyone’s best ideas- When we listen with respect to people that have different perspectives we often find that our collective intelligence is better than even expert opinion.  

Collaborative problem solving produces more win/win solutions-  Working collaboratively there is more flexibility and room to be creative in efforts to meet everyone’s core needs. Adversarial problem solving tends to produce lose/lose solutions where everyone feels they have lost.