How To Have Civil Conversations

Originally posted in Forbes.com

Darryl Brown and Tom Joyner, friends with very different political views, have found a way to have an ongoing, honest and civil dialogue for decades on many topics including politics and race. As we all face differences at the polls, in our communities, and soon, around the Thanksgiving table, learning how they do it can be very beneficial.

Darryl and Tom have been great friends for a long time. They met through business when they were colleagues and leaders in the radio business and developed a close friendship from there. Darryl is a liberal black man from the north, and Tom is a conservative white man from the south. They first met when Darryl was an executive at ABC radio networks and Tom was the owner of a network of radio stations.

I had the great honor of interviewing them to explore how race plays a role in their lives from when they were young through the civil rights movement until now as they are both retired and facing the current climate of social unrest. Here is an excerpt from the interview where you can hear their beautiful “radio” voices and learn about the respect they have for each other.

Civil is one of the seven core attributes of compassionate leadership from the ongoing research I have conducted over the last two years and is developed by demonstrating respect when confronted with differing views and other challenges. Darryl and Tom are a great example of this type of leadership and civility.

They have this advice for anyone who may want to create more productive conversations with friends, family or coworkers:

1. Start with mutual respect. In this case, Darryl and Tom admired each other’s professional contributions to the radio business from the start.  Tom appreciated Darryl’s ability to support talent like Howard Cosell and Darryl was impressed with Tom’s business savvy.

2. Develop a personal relationship through shared interests. Tom and Darryl both have a passion for sports, especially basketball. Darryl was a star college player for Fordham University and Tom is a super fan of the University of North Carolina. They share fond memories of watching many UNC games together from Tom’s primo seats. In addition,  Darryl often hosted Tom and his wife, Ann for the Annual Radio City Rockettes Christmas Show in New York.

3. Ask questions instead of making assumptions. For example, before delving into an emotional topic, you can ask, “ Is it ok if we explore this topic more deeply?”

4. Commit to continuing the conversation and the relationship, even if it gets uncomfortable. And it is perfectly acceptable to agree on ” let’s not go there” topics.

5. Do your best not to take things personally.

Thank you, Darryl and Tom, for sharing the inside story of your friendship and your tips on how to have civil conversations when we need it the most.