The Basic Course

Lesson 4: Tools for Talking

Empathic Listening and Self-Assertion

Creating Common Ground provides tools for turning political debates into problem-solving conversations. There are four steps in this process. They include (1) Engaging the Humanity of the Other; (2) Separating Political Positions from the Needs, Interests and Concerns that underlie and motivated them; (3) Brainstorming possible solutions to the problem of meeting all sets of interests and needs involved in a conflict; (4) Jointly Inventing a novel solution to the problem of meeting the needs of all constituents. In this lesson, you will learn how to talk in ways that will lead to constructive political problem solving. The tools discussed on this page are especially helpful for engaging in Step 2 -- Separating Positions from Needs. In this step, it is helpful to take turns seeking to understand the needs, interests and concerns of the other. To do this, partners alternative in separate modes of Empathic Listening and Self-Assertion.

Empathic Listening. This video addresses processes related to Step (2) -- separating political positions from the underlying needs that motivate them. To identify each constituent's underlying needs and interests, it is helpful to organize discussions into two separate and distinct phases: (a) Empathic listening to the Other and (b) Asserting the Needs of the Self. This video describes the process of Empathic Listening. It explains the need (a) to listen attentively to your partner; (b) to ask questions designed to identify your partner's underlying needs and beliefs, and (c) to summarize your partner's needs and interests with understanding, empathy and compassion.

Self-Assertion. This video describes the process of Self-Assertion. In the Bridging Divides process, Self-Assertion does not involve stating your political opinions, attacking the other, debating or trying to convince the other that you are right and the other is wrong. Instead, it involves (a) using I-Statements to express needs, interests and concerns that motivate our political positions; (b) using Observations rather than Evaluations when there is a need to refer to the behaviors of others, and (c) to use "and" rather than"but" when making observations and expressing needs. The term "but" tends to negate anything that precedes the use of the term -- which often causes defensiveness in the other.