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Difference works. The name of my business (and mission) challenge me at times when I deal with people think differently than I do. (I mean deal with it in an emotionally intelligent way.) My business is about how difference is good! And yet I can get judgmental about people who see an issue very differently than I see it.

When is “difference” good, and when is it just too hard? We know that diverse groups make better decisions. We know that we learn more (if we are open) from people whose backgrounds and perspectives are different from ours than from people who share our viewpoint. What about when our different points of view reveal a wide difference in values? Sometimes the vehemence of our disagreements is because of a difference in more than our thinking, in our values.

I think much of the divisiveness, especially about political issues, in the last few years may be a result of differences that go deeper than our thinking. It may be that we either are – or perceive that we are – crossing over core values. Or maybe there is a visceral reaction because we unconsciously feel a divide at the level of values.

I am among the many who want this divisiveness in our country to cool off. One of my “gurus” teaches that the first step in healing a conflict or disagreement between two people is to have each express his or her “vision” – the desired outcome. Then they can see if there is overlap or commonality. If so, they can explore ways to reach the common goal. If not, they can keep in mind the other’s perspective and hopes while they look at options to solve the problem. Note: this means they must first listen to one another!

As our Congressional leaders go about dealing with big issues (healthcare, tax reform, immigration policy), would it not be helpful to first have a discussion about what each side wants to accomplish and the values underlying that goal? And would it not be best if each side actually listened to the other? Do we want healthcare for all or do we want state of the art medical care for those who can afford it? Is it possible to have both? Do we have compassion for refugees from war zones and governments overrun by gangs? Or must we exclude all refugees in the interests of national security and our national budget? How can we find a solution that is both compassionate and responsible?

If someone with very different views cannot or will not listen, truly listen, then differences are a hopeless pain in the neck. Differences can “work” when we can talk and listen respectfully. It is hard to say they “work” when we feel the “other side” can’t hear us or doesn’t understand what we hope to accomplish.

So here is my humble suggestion for couples and colleagues struggling with different opinions – and for our lawmakers: Take a course in active listening! That means eye contact, suspense of judgment, and paraphrasing to be sure you correctly heard what the other has said. You need not agree; you just need to hear.

Do you think it would help if our lawmakers listened to understand each other’s values?