Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree with and Maybe Even Change the World

By: Justin Lee

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In our currently polarized culture, it can be very difficult to talk to people with whom we disagree. A logical defense that seem to hold great weight with like-minded persons can simply start a heated argument with those who strongly disagree. Therefore, we must find new ways in which to engage others with opposing views in order to bring civility back to our discussions. By spending years fighting heated culture wars, author Justin Lee has learned strategies for combating the us-vs.-them mentality. In Talking Across the Divide, he shows the reader how to use listening, empathizing, storytelling, and engaging in strategic dialogue to break through the psychological barriers that keep us from being able to understand one another. In doing so, we can find a way out of our own echo chamber and start healing the rifts that divide us.


When my church offered a six week, in-depth discussion and study of Talking Across the Divide, I decided to join in. I thought the book sounded interesting, especially in light of how polarized our society is right now. I think the only way we're going to solve this problem is if we're willing to listen to the other side and try to find common ground. But where does one start with this endeavor? Just thinking about it is daunting to me, and probably would be to most other people as well. I'm guessing that most fall into one of two groups: avoiders like me, who simply try to dodge talking about divisive topics, or arguers, who only add fuel to the fire by attacking and yelling at one another while not getting anywhere or changing anyone's mind. I figured there had to be a better way, but I had no idea what it might be until picking up this book.

Author Justin Lee teaches readers all the necessary steps for engaging in a successful strategic dialogue. He shows step-by-step exactly how to talk with someone with whom we disagree and perhaps even persuade them to your way of thinking. He also explains in detail the five main barriers to effective communication, along with strategies that can be used to overcome them. There's admittedly a lot of work that needs to go into having this type of dialogue, and it may not be for everyone. It may take a certain type of personality and most definitely a willingness to set aside one's own ego before you can even get started. Most of the members of our discussion group seemed a little skeptical, feeling as though they've already talked themselves blue in the face and haven't gotten anywhere, and I started out a little skeptical as well. But as I read more and more of the book, I genuinely came to believe these methods could work when the person using them is serious about the process. That said, though, it may not be a magic cure-all for every situation, and the author admits that. Even if it does work, it may also take time and multiple sessions of strategic dialogue to get the desired results.

Overall, I found Talking Across the Divide to be an excellent book if one is willing to put in the work. Mr. Lee is just such a person, who has made going into charged environments in an effort to get two opposing sides to dialogue his life's mission. He's also very talented at breaking down a difficult and confusing topic into easily understandable steps that the reader can take to find common ground with those with whom we might be in conflict. I also like that while he approaches it more from the standpoint of bridging political and social gaps, these techniques might also be useful and applicable to everyday situations as well, such as marital or workplace conflicts. Bottom line, if you find yourself at odds with someone, particularly someone you care about, then give this book a try. For now, I think I'm generally content to continue my avoidance techniques, but I know this may not work forever. So, this book is still definitely a keeper that I'll certainly refer back to if I find myself in a situation where it's necessary to dialogue with someone in order to make peace or to get across a point that's too important to be swept under the rug.


Justin Lee