Megan Campbell November 16, 2016

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Source: Politico

In the hours after Donald Trump’s election, the Facebook posts of my Democrat friends were all the same. They were devastated by his victory. They vowed to fight against his policies. And they were convinced that the country, in electing Donald Trump, had chosen hatred, racism and misogyny.

Their reactions were heartfelt, real expressions of the disappointment and fear that they feel. They are real and shouldn’t be dismissed. But after the dust settles, if it does, it’s going to be critical that we examine what comes next.

My Democrat friends are not alone in offering their explanation for why Donald Trump won. Journalists, commentators, my local bartender – everyone, Democrat or Republican, is rushing to proffer an explanation for the election result. Most focus on one reason, one unifying theory to explain Trump’s victory. And they are almost all explanation without conversation.

Feedback on its own is simply an invitation to conversation. That’s all it is – an invitation. Feedback, whether a survey response or a vote, is the means of opening up the possibility of deeper dialogue. Feedback alone, particularly binary feedback like the result of an election, doesn’t replace the conversation. Feedback tells you where you might have issues, where to direct your attention, whether people approve of you and your actions. But it doesn’t tell you why – it doesn’t give you the answers you need to take better action. Feedback alone doesn’t tell you what to do or why people have reacted to you the way they have.

If we listen to feedback and then assume we know what it means, we are missing the point of the feedback exercise. We are opting out of the feedback loop before we reach the critical last step – letting people know what we took from their feedback and inviting them to respond again. If we see an election result and assume we know why it happened, we are cutting ourselves off from the knowledge we need to change the outcome next time.

Avoiding the tough conversation limits our ability to take effective action. If we stop short of diving into the deeper dialogue that leads to meaningful course correction, we may as well not have invited or heard the feedback in the first place.

The suggestion that young Democrats move to the midwest is one of the more interesting I’ve heard lately. It’s value is not necessarily that it would change voter demographics in key states, as the author reasons, but because it would put policy makers like my DC-based friends into proximity with people with whom they need to be having tough conversations. Living near someone doesn’t guarantee dialogue will occur, but it might enable it.

People reeling from the election results shouldn’t need to uproot their lives to start a conversation, but they do need to look for ways to engage in true dialogue – and accept that it may feel uncomfortable. Whatever the strategy, the feedback encapsulated in this election result is an invitation to dialogue. It’s particularly important that people who were shocked by the result heed it. Let’s get the conversation started.

4 Responses to “The Danger of Explanation without Conversation”

  1. Elaine Baker

    November 30, 2016

    I agree very much that conversation and listening is needed, particularly in understanding what drove Trump supporters to vote as they did, and not making assumptions about what motivated them or assuming that they are all the same rather than made up of a coalition of diverse people with different priorities. However is there a tension here between listening on the one hand and legitimising racism or religious bigotry on the other? For example if you say that white supremacists should be “listened to” – does this not entail giving them a platform for their ideas and saying those ideas are acceptable ? Perhaps it depends on where and how the conversations take place ?

    Reply
    • Megan

      December 7, 2016

      Elaine,

      I think you’re right, it partially depends on where and how the conversations take place, and it’s essential that we keep in mind that conversation or listening doesn’t imply agreement. I think multi-person conversation can be useful for the situation you envision – in some ways, clearly hearing someone’s view might give other conversation participants more conviction that they disagree with those views, rather than less. A sort of ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ theory, I guess!

      Reply
  2. Elaine McLevie

    November 21, 2016

    This analysis is very strongly supportive of those of us who believe that the only way to make a change in a system effectively is to engage in the system in a personal way, not ride in on a white horse to save the day. Because Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego is a very hands on organization, our staff and key volunteers are personally involved with those who seek our advice or help. The trust that develops in those relationships is what brings the underlying, real reasons for difficult situations that occur, to the fore. That process cannot be obtained by written surveys. It needs face-to-face conversations, where the tear or sudden hesitation is noticed, and followed up on. I also has to take some time. Quick fixes for complex problems are rarely, if ever, the right solution.

    Reply
    • Megan

      December 7, 2016

      Elaine,

      I think that’s such a good point, that face-to-face matters, as does trust. I think it requires those of us interested in changing society or policy to ask the question – how do we put ourselves in a situation where we can even have face-to-face conversations? Sounds like you and the refugee network have found some ways, I’d love to hear more.

      Reply

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