Monica Guzman headshot and I Never Thought of it That Way book

I Never Thought of It That Way: notes on having difficult conversations

Our whole lives bring us to each opinion we hold.

Or, as Mónica Guzmán puts it: “We don’t see with our eyes after all but our whole biographies”

Guzmán happens to be an old friend from early in our journalism careers. She has since joined a movement for more civil discourse. Her latest step in that work was publishing last year her book I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

I’m inspired by Guzmán’s work and her approach. The book reads as a kind of manual for engaging across the political spectrum, and is part of a movement of advocates, nonprofits and organizations intending to improve civil dialogue. Guzmán advises us to pursue INTOIT moments, or “I never thought of it that way.” When do those moments confirm or challenge our beliefs?

To get there, she guides us to ask good questions that follow CARE (curious, answerable, raw and exploring). Examples includes asking “How did you come to believe?” rather than why do you believe this. Another one she likes: What am I missing? Most generally I appreciated her guidance: “The most important thing about bridges is not It to cross them but to keep them.”

Below I share my notes from the book for my future research.

Here are my notes:

  • Sorting, othering and siloing: homophile
  • Ubuntu: “I am because we are”
  • In 1995, Newt Gingrich reduces the congressional work week to three days, resulting in legislators (and their families) seeing less of each other
  • Alfred P Sloan asked his agreeable staff to “develop disagreement”
  • Robbers Cave study from the 1940s and 1950s on how conflict emerged between two groups
  • Tajfel’s study on intergroup discrimination
  • Perception Gap survey (and quiz)
  • Three kinds of bias: ideological polarization, affective polarization and false polarization (disagreement gap)
  • John Medina: “dopamine lollipops”
  • Cass Sunstein’s research on opinions (and social media and democracy)
  • Tristan Harris (whom I should remember to interview) on frictionless Infinite scroll
  • Herbert Simon in 1971: “what information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients” “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”
  • Perception gap study: those who spend more time with the news have a more distorted view of the other side
  • A 2020 Northwestern University study found posts about an other did better than those without one
  • John Powell at UC Berkeley to a pastor: don’t start your bridge building with the devil
  • What am I missing: is the key question
  • Hallin’s spheres
  • The Scottish word “ken” roughly means to know
  • “We don’t see with our eyes after all but our whole biographies”
  • INTOIT moment: did it confirm or challenge your beliefs? (I never thought of it that way)
  • Information gap theory: When someone has a gap in their knowledge on a topic they care about, they will take action to find out what they want to know. Otherwise, they won’t.
  • George Lowenstein is among the founders of behavioral economics
  • Author’s method:
    • Mind be gap
    • Collect knowledge
    • Reject easy answers
    • Embrace Complexity
  • Edward R Murrow: “Anyone who isn’t confused doesn’t really understand the situation.”
  • Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University: people need to have about three moments of positive feelings for every one moment of negativity
  • Michel de Montaigne wrote about the importance of travel so we can “rub and polish our brains against those of others.”
  • Sobremesa, or Spanish for “upon the table”, is the Hispanic tradition of relaxing at the table after a heavy meal, typically over conversation
  • Bridging conversations
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz has developed methods for engaging cross partisan
  • Jordan Litman on two types of curiosity: deprivation based and interest based
  • Conversation dial: the quality of conversation depends on Time; Attention; Parity; Containment (privacy) and Embodiment (genuinely engaged)
  • Isaac Asimov called great conversations “cerebrations “
  • Loop: listen for; observe; offer and pull (new information)
  • Ian Leslie: people aren’t puzzles they’re mysteries
  • (Explain primary vs secondary sources in my book)
  • Jonathan Haidt (who wrote Happiness Hypothesis): we confront info that backs us up we think “can I believe it?” When we confront that which challenge us we think “must I believe this?”
  • We “chain” beliefs: because you believe that, I assume you believe this.
  • We don’t choose our opinions
  • Is it possible I am wrong about what I believe? What’s more important, what I believe of the truth? David smith of Washington state
  • “You can’t get traction with a mind you’re trying to outmaneuver or defeat “ (136)
  • “The most important thing about bridges is not It to cross them but to keep them.” (140)
  • Alfred Korzybski: “a map is not the territory represented”
  • Darius Bollinger said “the shortest distance between two people is a story.”
  • Debates aren’t just reason but stories about why we believe in something
  • “Trying to change peoples mind when you don’t understand them never works and is never worth it.” (157)
  • Our whole lives brought us to this opinion
  • How did you come to believe ? Rather than why do you believe this
  • Explain yourself with stories
  • Shalom Schwartz Theory of Basic Values: 10 human values carry across cultures: stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, benevolence, universalism, security, conformity, traditions and self direction
  • Take the Schwartz Value Survey
  • Why do we misunderstand people so often? We don’t understand that others have different values prioritized: we confuse their ordering of values to be an absence of values
  • “What concerns you about x”
  • Instead of asking “why don’t you care“ we really should be wondering “what do you care more about?”
  • “What’s the most generous interpretation of why the other side feels that way?”
  • She tells the joke: The Democrats are for poor and the Republicans are for rich, so the immigrant says I’m Republican because I don’t want to be poor.
  • “Curiosity is worthless without honesty”
  • Conflict program called Crucial Conversations insists on paraphrasing or “looping for understanding”
  • “What I’m hearing is; did I get that right?”
  • Why journalists prefer live interviews more than prepared remarks? “Their subjects’ rhythms reveal more than their words.”
  • “The more public the conversation, the less honest the people in it can be.”
  • “When frustrated people start opening links, they’re done opening minds.”
  • Braver Angels founder Wynette Sills introduces the “Walk a Mile in My News” program
  • Good questions follow CARE: curious, answerable, raw and exploring
  • Final sentence in book asks to tweet, email or join her newsletter by visiting

Leave a Reply