Try a Listening Lunch

October 11, 2016 | Dialogue, Diversity & Inclusion, Overcoming Bias

If you don’t already have plans for lunch today, may I make a recommendation?

Think of somebody with whom you could easily find conflict, an acquaintance whose worldviews and beliefs have little to nothing in common with your own. Then invite that person to join you for meaningful dialogue over a midday meal.

I’m not suggesting that you stage an argument around the table. In fact, I’m proposing quite the opposite: Break bread with someone who espouses beliefs that are alien to you, take a sincere approach to understanding his or her perspective, and ask respectful questions that reflect that sincerity.

Then listen — really listen — while opening your mind to diversity of thought.

If you are of legal drinking age, you may or may not choose to indulge in adult beverages during this meal. But either way, you are likely to come away from the encounter at least somewhat altered. Perhaps you’ll have gained a better understanding of yourself, or you may even feel somewhat liberated from the limitations of your habitual thinking.

The point of this exercise is to remind yourself that even the ideologies that clash most noisily with your own are rooted in hearts and minds that are as human as your own. By appreciating this shared humanity – especially under potentially adversarial circumstances – you are cultivating your ability to embrace difference.

The Listening Lunch is among the enjoyable – yes, enjoyable — activities that Matthew Freeman and I prescribe in our new book, Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences, to be released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. in November.

Because we understand that confronting the prejudices that dwell within us all demands hard work and genuine introspection, we invite you to set aside judgment and shame in order to explore the very natural impulses that fuel biases. We share our own unfounded preconceptions and our struggles with addressing them, and we highlight ways in which we can all work toward transcending difference in order to forge rewarding and powerful connections.

Matthew and I have peppered the chapters of this book with lighthearted yet challenging assignments that are designed to guide readers gently on their individual quests toward lives less hindered by unconscious biases.

While you immerse yourself in your Listening Lunch, as well as all of the other activities we offer in our book, please keep in mind that the expanded awareness we expect you’ll gain is a signal of progress, not a cause for self-reproach. After all, each and every one of us harbors biases, and any effort we make to overcome them reveals courage and an admirable desire for personal growth.

So please enjoy your lunch. We hope that the enlightening exchange you are likely to experience will inspire you to extend your visit through the dessert course and beyond.