Why do we have so much trouble finding common ground?

“Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” — Dale Carnegie

As I watched the State of the Union speech a few weeks ago, I noticed the usual posturing by the two parties. Republicans stood and applauded at all the appropriate places, as Democrats sat sullen-faced (some really sullen faced!) and unhappy. The last several State of the Union speeches were given by a Democrat and the roles were reversed. What I noticed this time around was even more entrenchment on the part of both parties. What was dramatically missing was even a hint of common ground, or in many cases even common courtesy.

This behavior is not exclusive to those in politics at the highest level. I know of an individual in a social group who refuses to even talk with another member because of a “minor” disagreement. Most have heard of the dispute between the Hatfields and the McCoys that lasted for many years, and maybe still does. It seems that many of us have lost that gracious ability to agree to disagree, and then try to figure out a way to resolve whatever issue is at hand. It seems to me that common ground, that place in the middle where two opposing points of view can finally come together, has gotten smaller and smaller. In all too many cases it has disappeared completely.

Resolution of problems is no longer the goal. The goal is to dig in and unequivocally defend MY POINT OF VIEW! As we see on a national level, and as can be observed locally and personally, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach a mutually agreed upon decision when this posturing takes place.

Earlier in my career, my role was the real estate guy for a restaurant company. My job was to find new locations, go through due diligence, and negotiate deals all over the country. When I was just getting started I really stumbled at the negotiation table. I thought my job was to bring in the absolute best and only deal for my company. What I found was that I lost some deals because of this point of view. I am not even suggesting that you should give away the company store when negotiating. I am strongly recommending that some serious thought needs to be given to where common ground can be found. It is only in this way that a conversation, not a confrontation, can take place.



I had the good fortune to have a mentor who guided me the first couple of years in that real estate role. I will never forget his advice — the best advice I ever received when it comes to finding an agreement, even when both sides dramatically disagree:

  1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Get out of your role and really try to see where the other side is coming from.
  2. Look for common ground. Once you take the perspective of No. 1 above, look for all the opportunities where both parties agree — common ground. Spend quality time on this step and do not pass it by too quickly. Do not look for places to defend your position. Look only for those places where you might actually agree.
  3. Start a CONVERSATION, not a CONFRONTATION. With common ground as a starting point, a conversation can begin. Start with those areas where both sides agree and use that focus as the foundation for the discussion. Once that foundation is in place, then and only then go through the other points.
  4. Both parties should ultimately walk away somewhat dissatisfied. There is a genuine give and take in these conversations. If one party walks away the clear winner, there will also be a clear loser. That scenario does not lead to long term mutual satisfaction and will poison the water for any future relationship.

There is an old proverb that goes: “By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”

So, as I bring this “pondering” to a close, my hope and wish is that both individually and as a nation we can somehow use the age-old wisdom of common courtesy to find common ground as we search for solutions. If we do not, we might find ourselves pondering the following: “Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?”

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