OpenMind Course: How to have Meaningful Conversations by@deh

OpenMind Course: How to have Meaningful Conversations

OpenMind is a non-profit program that weaves together psychological concepts with engaging examples and scenarios. The course includes interactive online lessons and guides for peer-to-peer conversations. It's deceptively simple. It's free and there are no ads or attempts to sell you anything. This might make you skeptical, but don't let it fool you, the course has tremendous value.
Denise Hippler HackerNoon profile picture

Denise Hippler

Interested in what connects us.

Throughout our lives, we communicate with other people. We start exercising this when we're born and can expect to continue doing so for a long time.

Often, we continue to rely on patterns we built early in life and don't realize there are other ways that could lead to more meaningful dialogues.

I want to talk about one way we could inspect and adapt the way we approach our conversations, especially the ones involving conflict.

The Motivation: Our Experiences Teach Us to Talk to People... Up to a Point

I grew up, probably similar to you, in a family/community, I've traveled through several places, worked in organizations that had different company cultures, sat around tables with people of varied beliefs, etc. I've extended this knowledge with books, movies, and other people's stories.

All of these had an impact on how I view the world and communicate.

However, considering the enormous range of human experiences, I've only been exposed to a tiny part of it. And no matter how much more other people lived through, they also only experienced a small fraction of what is possible.

We will oftentimes have enough differences that might lead to disagreements, which is where the challenges in communication usually begin.

There are so many issues dividing our society worldwide, but even if I stick to the smaller scale of a community or even a family, it’s obvious we’re bound to meet people with different opinions.

A Course for Building New Communication Skills

To improve the way we communicate, we need to make a deliberate effort! But what do we need to learn and how can we apply that?

Instead of having to put together all pieces for theory and practice, there is already a program that covers at least one approach to improving our ways of having conversations. It's called OpenMind.

In their own words

"the OpenMind Online Program, is a personalized learning experience that weaves together psychological concepts with engaging examples and scenarios. The program includes interactive online lessons and guides for peer-to-peer conversations."

This program is currently free and there are no ads or attempts to sell you anything. This might make you skeptical, but don't let it fool you, the course has tremendous value.

Their intention with this free tool is to

"equip people with the mindset and skill-set to communicate constructively across differences."

It was developed by a non-profit (called OpenMind) that spun out of a project of the NYU-Stern School of Business and one of the founders is author, professor and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

Learning to Communicate Across Differences

I first went through OpenMind's 8 modules last year and was impressed by how easy they made it look. This year I retook it before writing this.

The sentences are clear, the images are to the point (and help break down the text). The examples make sense. There are metaphors, quizzes, prompts for reflection, and life hacks. The content is relevant and put together in such a way that seems obvious.

It's deceptively simple - I bet a lot of work went into it.

I had already been in contact with some of the things they go over.

That we have a quick, more emotional way of reacting versus a slower, more logical one. And how we often make decisions based on our emotions but later use logic to justify them.

Another idea that wasn’t new to me was that we can be tricked by our senses and be confident about something that isn't true. Because that's how we perceive the world, we don't realize that other people might see it differently.

Module 1 presents these (and other) concepts and shows how they impact the way we communicate across differences.

Sometimes we see the world differently (image from MabelAmber on Pixabay)

The course starts by laying foundations like the concepts mentioned above, then progresses to more advanced material.

For example, I've learned about a theory that says we humans have common moral foundations. Everyone uses all of these 6 foundations (Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) to different degrees. Knowing this gives us a common reference: when I disagree with you, I can get curious about what is informing your worldview. Since I can relate to these foundations as well, that usually will lead to me being more open to your opinions.

Another idea I hadn’t encountered before has to do with moral outrage. That’s the feeling we get when we encounter an event that goes against our values. Moral outrage played a role in our evolution, facilitating cooperation and increasing our chances for survival. But our situation in the world changed and, like many other characteristics that were important for us to get to this point, it's no longer beneficial to us as a species Still, it happens a lot, especially online. Showing outrage online when someone posts something we don’t agree with isn’t increasing our chances for survival anymore. Instead, it harms the person it’s directed to and also the person that inflicts it.

These are just two examples of what I learned in OpenMind. Obviously, both these topics are developed in a much more engaging and clearer way than I intend to describe here. My hope is that I could intrigue you to take a look.

By the way, despite having come to life due to the divisiveness in the USA, the couse doesn't expect you to have specific convictions, culture, political inclination, etc. The ideas it goes over apply to dialogues with a partner, peers, children, unknown people... In a way, we learn how to talk to anyone.

After the Course: Only Meaningful Conversations?

Not yet.

I learned about how to approach some situations differently and I apply that often - though old patterns still come up.

That’s fine. Change in mindset requires repetition and patience.

Another reason we need to be patient if we want more meaningful dialogues is that it is much simpler to just say "you're wrong" than trying to dig deeper into why the person thinks in a certain way and talking to them to learn more about it.

I would suggest that you take the course slowly. One module should take around 30 minutes, but to reflect on it and practice the suggestions, it makes sense to take one module per week.

24h after finishing a module, you get a summary of that lesson. It’s helpful looking at it every now and then.

It’s a matter of keeping the intention of improving these skills. This brings us to the next point.

This Course Won't Take Itself.

Nowadays, so many online experiences are gamified, that we can't stay a day away from them without fear of breaking our streak. Or we invest just a few more minutes to get to the next badge. Or to jump to the top five in the ranking.

There's no gamification here. Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay

Just like deciding to improve communication skills is a deliberate effort, you need to take initiative and go through it for your own reasons. Maybe these could be learning things like:

  • How to develop a growth mindset
  • What brought people to certain opinions that we find alarming
  • How to approach people in a way that they’re receptive to what we’re saying
  • Why it is valuable to welcome different perspectives

Sometimes we feel powerless about how conflicts are handled. But with some reflection and self-reflection, we can contribute to making progress in how society deals with divisiveness and understand ourselves better in the process.

The program can be done in the context of groups, but also as an individual person. Here's the link to the program for individuals.

By the way, you do get points in questions that come up. This is relevant only if you're doing this as part of a group - in that case, the group admin can check your points.

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