Author: Craig Freshley

How to talk across our political divide

Good Group Tips





Photo credit: Brunswick Times Record

In principle, when people in a country, state, town, or family have opposing political views, it’s really hard because political views reflect our core values and our core identity. It’s hard when your sense of identity is threatened. It’s no wonder people opt out of politics or don’t like it when things get political.

Yet opposing political views also reflect our diversity; that we come from different places with different experiences and different beliefs. Our diversity helps us learn new things from each other and helps us craft new solutions to our problems.

Disagreement can have really positive outcomes when people understand where each other are coming from. Disagreement can have really negative outcomes when people misunderstand each other.

Misunderstandings almost always lead to conflict. Someone acts on a false assumption. The act gets interpreted as intentionally aggressive. More assumptions result. More aggression results.

Even when we disagree, understanding each other has some very practical benefits:

  1. If I feel that you have heard and understood my perspective I am much more likely to peacefully accept the outcome, whatever it is.
  2. If I truly understand your perspective I have a much better chance of making a decision that doesn’t backfire or miss the mark or result in bad outcomes that I didn’t even see coming.
  3. If we understand each other we have a much better chance of finding a solution that works for us both.

Practical Tip: Engage in actual conversations with people who have different political views so you can better understand them. It works well to invite someone to such a conversation rather than force it on them. And it works well to talk and listen with respect and not try to change each other’s minds.

Listen to understand where an opposing person is coming from, how they came to such points of view, and why such views are important to them. Demonstrate that you have heard them. Tell how your experience has influenced your political views.

You don’t have to agree on all the facts. State facts that contribute to your viewpoint and hear facts that contribute to theirs. It’s okay to point out differences in the factual accounts; that leads to new learning. If you shame someone for not believing the same facts as you; that leads to new levels of conflict.

It’s okay to walk away without minds changed or agreements reached. If you walk away with even just a bit of increased understanding or increased respect, that’s terrific.

If you feel misunderstood or mistreated, ask the person why they are being that way. Listen to understand. Show that you have heard them. Then say how the misunderstanding or mistreatment affects you.

If someone has no interest in understanding your view and intentionally chooses to mistreat you based on false assumptions, that’s more than political divide. That’s prejudice, oppression, abuse. The principles and tips for that are different I’m afraid.

An Experiment
: In my hometown of Brunswick, Maine we tried an experiment called the Make Shift Coffee House. It was a gathering on a Saturday night to understand each other’s political views, and hang out. We had live music, good food, and political conversation. It got written up in the local paper and several people made comments at the Make Shift Coffee House website. Learn about it here.

Also at the website I have assembled discussion guides, articles, videos, and podcasts all about understanding each other across political divides. Find resources here.

I would love to facilitate more Make Shift Coffee Houses; more conversations across political divides. It’s what we need. If you would like to partner with me on this please speak up.

Last word: It’s our political divide; not my political divide or your political divide. It’s ours. We’re in this together. It’s our country, our state, our town, our family. The most effective way to stop group infighting is to establish a common enemy; a common cause. Understanding each other is our best hope to reveal our common cause; a cause bigger and more important than our political divide.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for a two-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.


In this short video, Craig explains how music can serve multiple purposes in a meeting.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video.

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, about to start a training session. There’s something that I want to show you. Come on inside.

We got all set up before people are arriving. Look, we’ve got food over here. We’ve got the tables for people to sit, we’ve got a blank wall, slides.

But, do you hear that? We’ve got music playing. I find that it’s so helpful to kind of lighten the atmosphere and help people feel cheerful if you can have some music playing on arrival, right? Why not?

And you know what? I’m going to use music too, for some of the breaks.

I’m going to ask people to change tables today – several times. And the way I’m going to do that is, I’m going to turn on some music. I’m going to ask people to get up out of their chairs and walk around randomly while the music plays and (you’ve probably got this figured out) when the music stops, sit down wherever you are. It’s a really fun and quick way to get people to sit in different places.

Look, there’s a lot of seriousness going on in the world. A lot of seriousness about our meetings and training sessions. If we can lighten things up with a little music, why not?

I hope this helps your group make good decisions.


Good Group Tips

In principle, art is that which provokes thought or emotion. It inspires, puzzles, causes one to think and feel in new ways. It is often an end in itself without a higher goal in mind. The artist is open to whatever may result.

All worthy creations, including good group decisions, are a combination of art and technique. Group decisions made in the absence of provocative thought or emotion may be mediocre or un-compelling.

Practical tip: Bring creative processes and artful influences into your group decision making. Enhance the technical decision making steps with artistic interventions. Weave music, stories, and pictures into your work. Allow time and space for laughter, tears, aha’s.

Art often knocks us off balance and to new places of understanding and inspiration; just what’s needed for good group decisions.

My responsibility

Good Group Tips

In principle, when we are part of a group we are apt to expect the group or other members of the group to do things on our behalf. When faced with a problem to be solved or a task to be done we might think, “someone else will take care of it.” This seems different from being independent where every problem and every task is “my responsibility.” Group belonging creates the illusion of group responsibility. But it is an illusion. Still, it is “my responsibility.”

When group members give up responsibility to the group as a whole, the group doesn’t get anything done.

We can spend a lot of time and energy wishing our group was different, complaining about our group, questioning other group members about their ways. But there is only one question that leads to real change: “What am I going to do about it?”

Practical Tip: Don’t just talk about how things should change. BE the change that you want for your group, for your world. Don’t just wish that problems were solved and tasks were done. Do things.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Adapt, migrate, or perish

Good Group Tips





In principle, when faced with discomfort, there are basically three choices: adapt, migrate, or perish. These are the alternatives available to species, communities, companies, governments, and individuals.

To adapt is to change one’s own behaviors. It’s about doing things differently. Although change is hard and often resisted, evolution has taught us that adaptation is the key to survival. In business terms, innovation is the key to prosperity.

To migrate is to leave one’s situation for a better one. This is sometimes the appropriate response to external factors. If your group, your partner, your company, or your community are doing you wrong and unlikely to change, you might exercise your choice to leave. But if your discomfort is caused by something internal, some attitude or habit that only you can change, when you leave you will simply take the discomfort with you. Best to adapt: the solution is to change something in yourself.

To perish is an option not to be overlooked. Sometimes the best choice is to actually go out of business, disband, surrender. This is often the way to peace.

Homo sapiens, with our enlarged brains, are inclined towards a fourth choice: wishful thinking. When faced with discomfort I am likely to spend huge amounts of energy wishing that things were different, complaining, trying to get others to adapt to me, denying my part in my discomfort, justifying why I am right and others are wrong, and being angry at the situation with all manner of adverse consequences. These approaches rarely, if ever, improve my comfort over the long run.

Practical Tip: If you or your group don’t like things the way they are, adapt, migrate, or perish.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.


Good Group Tips

In principle, detachment is the key to peace.

Sometimes we are so attached to things that we are apt to fight for them, so attached that when they disappear it brings great pain, so attached that our judgment is clouded to the point where we see and feel only conflict.

While right-sized compassion brings comfort, oversized attachment to people, ideas, or feelings brings turmoil and tension. While right-sized determination brings achievement, unwavering attachment to goals or ideals brings conflict.

Practical Tip: Do not be too attached to your group’s cause or decisions that you think the group should make. Do not be too attached to how you think things should be or how others should behave.

It is often those group members who are unreasonably dedicated — those who give an unreasonable amount of time or energy — who cause the most conflict.

Give your best without conditions. Speak your truth without expectations. Use the key, find peace.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Good information compels

Good Group Tips

In principle, there are basically three ways to influence the choices people make:

1. Regulate what people cannot do and punish violations.

2. Offer incentives to encourage certain choices.

3. Provide information that rings so true it compels good choices.

If you believe that, for the most part, people want to do the right thing, the most effective and peaceful method of influencing good decisions is to provide good information so the right thing becomes self-evident.

For example, Maine has historically had one of the highest teen smoking rates in the nation. We have made laws against teen smoking and punished violators. We have created incentives against smoking such as high taxes on cigarettes. These have not had satisfactory results. Only recently has the rate dramatically declined and it is because we launched an information campaign that made the detrimental health effects of cigarette smoking clear. We provided truthful information on television and radio. For all those teens who want to do the right thing, it’s now clear what that is.

Practical Tip: Provide all decision makers with the best possible information about the issue being considered. Good, truthful information is extremely compelling.

Actually, good information is the only thing that is truly compelling and results in sustainable decisions.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.