Episode 76

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Published on:

28th May 2024

Bridging Divides with Ashish Kothari and Diana McLain Smith

Our world feels increasingly divided, largely because we tend to surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do. This creates a cycle where we constantly reinforce our own beliefs and opinions. Over time, this makes it challenging to see or appreciate different viewpoints, as we're not regularly exposed to them.

In this episode of the HAPPINESS SQUAD Podcast, Ashish Kothari and Diana McLain Smith, Founder and Author of Remaking the Space Between Us, discuss overcoming our divides by transforming how we interact and understand each other in a divided world.

Diana McLain Smith is a distinguished author and consultant specializing in leadership and organizational development. She has a robust academic background in psychology and social systems, and her work primarily focuses on helping leaders and teams navigate complex relationships and organizational challenges.

Diana is also well-known for her insightful book, "The Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations," where she explores the dynamics of human relationships within a professional context. Her expertise is frequently sought by leading organizations looking to enhance their leadership effectiveness and team collaboration.

In the conversation, Ashish and Diana share their insights and provide actionable advice for improving societal and personal connections.

Things you will learn from this episode:

• Ending the Epidemic of Loneliness

• Hope as a crucial political act

• Empathy as a superpower

• Transforming conflict into an opportunity for improvement

Tune in now and find out how you can take part in remaking the space between our divided world!

Resources:

• Diana’s website: http://www.dianamclainsmith.com/

• Company website: http://www.newprofit.com/

• Remaking the Space Between Us on Substack: https://remakingthespace.substack.com/about

• Citizen Connect Organization: https://citizenconnect.us/

• Listen First Project: https://www.listenfirstproject.org/

• Roots & Shoots Organization by Jane Goodall: https://rootsandshoots.org/

• Solutions Journalism Network: https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/

Books:

• Remaking the Space Between Us by Diana McLain Smith

• Elephant in the Room by Diana McLain Smith

• Divide of Conquer by Diana McLain Smith

• Waking Up White by Debbie Irving: https://www.debbyirving.com/the-book/

• Primal Fear: Tribalism, Empathy, and the Way Forward by Rob Smith

• Ask: Tap Into the Hidden Wisdom of People Around You for Unexpected Breakthroughs In Leadership and Life

• Begin Again by Eddie Glaude

• Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton

• Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

• Hardwired for Happiness: 9 Proven Practices to Overcome Stress and Live Your Best Life.https://www.amazon.com/Hardwired-Happiness-Proven-Practices-Overcome/dp/1544534655

Transcript

Ashish Kothari: Hi, Diana. How are you? It's so lovely to have you on our podcast.

Diana McLain Smith: It's wonderful to be here, Ashish. I have to say, I'm happy to be here.

Ashish Kothari: Thank you for sending us a copy of your book. I'm going to hold it up here. I should have gotten it up earlier. I have to tell you, I saw the book and I literally fell in love. What a beautiful title, because this is so present.

Diana's book just came out and it's called Remaking the Space Between Us. In a world where we seem to be more polarized, or at least we feel it is, there's such important work that needs to be done. That’s the subtitle is How Citizens Can Work Together to Build a Better Future for All. I love it. That's the book we're going to explore together.

But before we go there, I always ask this question to our guest, Diana: What does happiness mean to you, and how has that definition changed over time?

Diana McLain Smith: Well first, I love the question, and it required me to do some reflection I haven't done in a long time, which I always find valuable. So thank you for the question.

It brought me back to when I was a child and my mom, who was an extraordinary woman and I adore her even now that she's gone, struggled with alcoholism. I think because of that, she always felt very guilty.

She would frequently pull me aside and say, "Are you happy?" I never knew how to answer the question because I knew in part that she was asking for reassurance, yet I didn't feel it would be truthful because I actually just didn't know how to answer the question.

The other memory I had was of a game my brothers and I used to play. It was this thing you would ride on, and it would give you three options: fame, money, or happiness. You would bet with one another on which you'd rather have.

I could never figure out why anyone wouldn't just pick happiness because if fame or money makes you happy, you get that. So I always chose happiness despite not being able to answer my mother's question.

As a child, that was my perspective. When I was in college, I started working with kids in the communities of Boston. I worked in two different communities—one primarily Black, the other primarily white.

he time. This was back in the:

These kids were up against a lot, and I found an enormous amount of meaning and purpose in helping them understand their own self-worth and put them on a path where they could realize their potential. That made me think of happiness as having a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

That perspective has stood me in good stead my entire life because there are many things that happen that can knock us off-center and make us suffer. But if you have relationships and a sense of purpose, it allows you to make it through adversity.

I'd say I learned that at my mom's feet because, despite all her struggles, she had an extraordinary capacity to build relationships and make you feel like you had a purpose in life. That has stood me in good stead.

Today, I'm doing the same thing. I'm working with young people, trying to help them realize their potential. I'm also trying to help our country realize its potential.

We made a promise years ago with our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and it's been a struggle ever since to live up to those promises and the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and justice for all. That is my abiding purpose now.

There's also a wonderful quote I came across by John Patrick Shanley, a playwright who wrote the screenplay for Doubt and also Moonstruck. Moonstruck is one of my favorite movies. Talk about joy.

He said, "I have two dogs, a border collie and a mutt. I picture each day as if it were a happy dog looking at me. I may not be in the mood, but the dog always wants to play. Trust the dog." And I always trust the dog.

Ashish Kothari: How beautiful, how beautiful. Wow, I love that quote. And so poignant, what you just shared, Diana. This notion of the "pursuit of happiness," I think there's a problem with the word "pursuit" because we know from research that when we pursue happiness, we are unhappy.

Maybe that's why we're at an all-time low in terms of unhappiness and loneliness in the U.S., and we'll get to that question in just a minute. But truly, what you highlighted are two of the really critical ingredients that have shown up over thousands of years.

The Stoics talked about eudaimonia, living a virtuous life, living in service of another, and connections. The recent Harvard research around relationships and the power of those for us to flourish and be happier and satisfied with life. So, so powerful. Your own lived experience aligns with this as well.

You also beautifully talked about the fact that this isn't about not having suffering, but about building key practices that allow us to withstand and overcome suffering, and bounce forward from it.

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. And if I can stay on this for a minute longer, one of my idols, and many people's idols, is Abraham Lincoln. I've read many biographies of him.

But recently I read John Meacham's book And There Was Light, which is an in-depth study not just of Lincoln, but of the decades leading up to the Civil War, when our country was manifesting many of the ills and unhappiness we see now.

When I studied Lincoln, what struck me was how this man, who did have bouts of depression, was able to be such an extraordinary leader. In his second inaugural address, he demonstrated incredible empathy for the South, which was stunning.

What I discovered is that he had remarkable adversity as a youth and suffered mightily, but in the midst of that adversity, he had extraordinary relationships. He had relationships with his stepmother and with people in town. He had a gift for forming friendships, and I think it was those relationships that helped him make something out of the adversity.

The last thing I'll say is that he loved to read and found meaning in what he read. He had this constellation of forces that I think forged his extraordinary character, and I believe we can imitate it.

Ashish Kothari: Absolutely. Absolutely. You alluded to this a little bit, Diana, around what was happening then and now. The recent Gallup report came out, the World Happiness Report, and the Surgeon General has been talking about the epidemic of loneliness.

In the Gallup report, we're 23rd in the world on happiness. We're actually, I think, number 53 or number 63—I don't exactly remember right now—but below 50s when it comes to young population happiness.

As another practitioner in the field who speaks so much about connection, I'm curious: What do you think are some of the underlying causes behind this decline that we're seeing consistently?

Diana McLain Smith: It's a very important question. It's not easy to answer simply because there are so many forces at play. I'm sure I'll leave a lot out, but let me share my perspective. I always look for causes that will provide a toehold, some way of transforming or altering the cause and pushing us toward a better future. I'm always searching for leverage points.

Let me start with where there are very few. Over the past few decades, there's been a remarkable increase in globalization, the migration of populations, the rise of technology, the internet, 24-hour cable news—all these external forces bombard us, and oftentimes the news leads with "what bleeds."

We're constantly bombarded with terrible things happening in the world. That is very difficult. One of the things that happens is that it flips us into a very unhappy cycle. We get anxious because we don't see how we can affect all these external events.

So, we start using our iPhones all the time. We check the news and text messages, which distracts us from the anxiety. But the more we do that, the more anxious we become. And the more anxious we get, the more we turn to our iPhones and iPads.

Ashish Kothari: It's a self-reinforcing cycle that feeds the dopamine addiction it creates for us.

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. So my advice is to put down the iPhone, put down the iPad, and make eye contact with the people next to you. Stop being glued to these technologies and start being glued to one another.

Unhappiness and loneliness go hand in hand. We're disconnected from people, and it's making us profoundly unhappy. I think we all have an obligation to migrate in a new direction.

Ashish Kothari: I love that notion. Diana, I'm reflecting on how often my wife and I will go out for dinner and see entire families sitting with their phones in their hands. I don't know why they're sitting together in a restaurant if they're all plugged in.

Now, I also take my phone out many times, and my wife, who I love dearly, always tells me to put my phone down. We don't even keep our phones on the table because we know how much it affects the level of connection we feel. Just having a phone visible signals that something else is more important than the person you're with.

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. And the reason I came to this insight wasn't from seeing other people do it. It was from watching myself. I had this compulsion, and my husband makes fun of me, telling me to put my iPhone down. I tell him the same thing. It's just awful.

Ashish Kothari: Yeah, but we need to do that for ourselves. And the other thing you mentioned, which is so true, is that we need to take action to disconnect. If the news constantly focuses on the negative, as if that's the only thing to report, it's not representative of reality. So many good things happen in the world all the time.

For example, there was not a single story of humanitarian aid or people moved to action in the Israel-Gaza conflict, but the moment a group from the UK got blown up accidentally, it made the news. Why weren't we covering any of the positive stories? In every instance of suffering, why focus only on the suffering and not the goodness that pours into those moments?

If our news media can't do that, we must take the responsibility to prevent constant negativity from affecting us, because taking it in leads to anxiety.

Diana McLain Smith: Yes, and you've put your finger on why I wrote the book. I wanted to set the record straight. Even though the headlines scream about how polarized we are, I discovered that 87% of the population is not polarized. I also came across a story about a town that responded to acts of hate by coming to the aid of the victims. They started a movement called Not In Our Town.

From there, I thought, "If this town exists, there have to be others." I figured I'd find a few thousand organizations across the nation, but there are tens of thousands of groups, involving hundreds of thousands of people, working to counter these negative forces. You don't read about this in the press.

So I want to give your listeners a gift: There's a group called Solutions Journalism Network. If you Google them, you'll find their website.

They're doing two things: First, they're highlighting stories about people countering the terrible things we hear about. Second, they've trained 60,000 journalists around the globe to do solutions journalism. They're trying to reinvent journalism.

We're seeing that things have gotten so bad that organizations, people, and movements are disrupting the status quo. In the meantime, before a new status quo emerges, we have to do two things: Go to the Solutions Journalism Network, read their stories, support them, and donate so they can continue their work.

The other thing to do is unplug. I don't spend my time on the news and am very selective about what I read. I go to the Solutions Journalism Network, and I don't know if you're familiar with Substack newsletters, but it's a platform reinventing the business of news so that writers can have a direct relationship with readers.

There are some extraordinary people on Substack, like Timothy Snyder, Heather Cox Richardson, and Robert Hubbell. I launched a Substack maybe two months ago to build on the stories in my book and share stories that I continue to come across.

We need to find different sources of news, support them, and stop supporting the sick news that's being delivered to us.

Ashish Kothari: I think it's a movement that's building. Before our conversation, Diana, I had lunch with two folks from the local PBS radio network.

Diana McLain Smith: PBS is a great example, too.

Ashish Kothari: Right. They were talking about rebuilding spaces to facilitate real dialogue again, not shouting matches where people argue who's right and who's wrong.

How do we actually foster dialogues on topics that seem divisive but aren't because, as you pointed out, there's so much common ground if we choose to inquire deeply into what we're solving for, what we're worried about, and what we're hoping for.

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. What are we concerned about, as opposed to simply taking a position on immigration?

Ashish Kothari: Yeah. And look, if our communities are not healthy, which is where I want to focus in the book, if the societies we live in aren't healthy, we don't feel safe, we don't feel that we belong, and we can't flourish. Community and relationships are at the heart of flourishing. Let's get to that.

In your book, Remaking the Space Between Us, you talk about a world where people are seeking refuge with like-minded individuals and distancing themselves from others less known.

Tell me a little bit about the core message you wanted readers to take away because you’re not talking about a world that’s polarized, but one that's actually in the middle. Could you discuss that message and the principles you talk about in the book?

Diana McLain Smith: I will, and, you know, everybody encourages me to have my elevator speech, so I'm going to try to distill this. What makes it so difficult is that what I'm about to describe is lying in plain sight, but none of us see it.

Let me start from the top. The thing we observe is polarization, the rise in hate, and the rise in inequities. These are the things we see, but they're symptoms. The question is, what are they symptoms of? I believe it's a symptom of the space between us and how you and I maintain that space.

Let me explain what that space looks like. From my point of view, this is the warp and weft of everyday life. We're so used to living this way that we don't even see it. It's just the way we live.

The root cause is that since our founding, we as a people have always lived separate lives, in groups, divided along ideological and demographic lines. That has been true since the founding of the nation. At different points in history, we've become more insular within these groups and more divided across them.

These two things are important to understand because people keep talking about bridging the distance, but we'll never bridge the distance until we open up the space within groups because we're all colluding with each other. We all have the same belief system, watch the same news stations, and live in the same neighborhoods.

There's a wonderful book I highly recommend called Waking Up White by Debbie Irving. She talks about how she never understood herself as a white person; she just took it for granted as the standard. Then she realized she had been living in a bubble. We need to develop self-awareness and understand where we live our lives and how that's affecting us.

To me, this is the root cause. What's hopeful is that of all the forces driving polarization—like the internet, globalization, and inequities—this is the one we can control. We can't stop globalization or make technology disappear, but we can remake the space between us. It's the most fundamental root cause, it's been around the longest, and it's the only one we can control.

Ashish Kothari: Yes, so the journey out there starts here.

Diana McLain Smith: It starts with us and the groups in which we live. I'm having a conversation with my little community here, which is pretty divided by demographic lines. It's primarily for older people and those of a certain economic income. I'm going to talk with them about this and see what happens.

There are two organizations I want to mention to do your listeners a favor. It's not easy to break out of these spaces because we live in them.

Ashish Kothari: It's hard because we're not even aware. What do you do?

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. We're not aware. So there's an organization called Citizen Connect. I can send you the links after the show if you'd like. I could probably do it during the show and put it in your chat.

Ashish Kothari: There's a chat, but you can send it to me, and we'll put it in the show notes.

Diana McLain Smith: Okay, I'll send it afterward, and please share it. Citizen Connect is one, and the other one is Listen First Project. Citizen Connect has 500 or so organizations, any one of which you can join. You don't have to make it a full-time job, but you can explore these organizations that offer opportunities to connect with people.

One such organization is called StoryCorps, and they have a subdivision called One Step. If you reach out to them, they'll match you with somebody different from you and structure a 30-minute conversation. That's an easy first step.

My dog walker, who lives in the Northeast, I assumed was a liberal, but she told me she's a Republican. My business manager of 26 years voted for Trump. I did not. I make it a point to reach across divides to try to understand, empathize, and connect around core values. Those are all things we can do.

Ashish Kothari: I love what you're saying because it's about actions we can take. Right now, Diana, so many people are losing hope—in the U.S. and among the younger population.

People are losing hope in the system, the government, and the leaders. But I love the work of Jane Goodall, who says, "Don't lose hope. You can be the hope because you can take action." If enough of us take action, collectively, we start to change the system.

Diana McLain Smith: Yes, that's so true. Jane Goodall is one of my heroes for that very reason. I see hope as a crucial political act. It's not like I don't despair from time to time or pull my hair out. We all do. There are some depressing things going on, and we'd be insane if we didn't feel that way. In those moments, we have to choose to hope and act as if we hope. Eventually, the hope will come back.

May I share some things that give me hope?

Ashish Kothari: Please, I want to hear about the things that give you hope.

Diana McLain Smith: People are despairing, they lose sight of what citizens can do. Here's a list of what citizens have accomplished in the past:

In World War II, the British created a flotilla of boats that rescued 300,000 soldiers stranded on the shores of Dunkirk. If they hadn't done that, World War II would have ended right there because that was the entire British and French army.

They pioneered a non-violent mass resistance movement that freed India from British rule.

They built an abolitionist movement in the U.S. that ended slavery and extended the rights and protections of citizens to Black men.

They organized a non-violent, decades-long civil rights movement that outlawed segregation and got voting rights passed a century later.

They lobbied, lectured, wrote, and protested as part of the suffrage movement that amended the U.S. Constitution and extended voting rights to women.

They launched a labor movement in Poland that precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They brought down a military dictatorship and restored democracy to Argentina. They ended legal apartheid in South Africa after decades of struggle.

They fought to establish democracy in America through a war of independence, to save it through a civil war, and to defend it through two world wars.

They mobilized in a day to resist Russia's invasion of Ukraine, inspiring a worldwide fight for democracy.

Every single one of these changes that occurred globally was led by citizens. By citizens.

Ashish Kothari: Love that. You know, I'll add one to that list, Diana. Jane Goodall's work with the Roots & Shoots organization, which now has over 10,000 chapters. It's really empowering kids to take actions that make a positive difference for animals, nature, and humans, for the environments in which we live.

Diana McLain Smith: Very close to my heart.The stories in your book are like those of citizens like Jane doing amazing things.

Ashish Kothari: Friends, get a copy of this book: Remaking the Space Between Us: How Citizens Can Work Together to Build a Better Future for All. Truly, we can make that change. The stories you just highlighted, Diana, are momentous, things that could have changed the tide of time.

It was the collective action of so many that made it possible, and it's still possible today. However, none of this would be possible unless we start becoming aware of our own lenses and learn to tune into others.

You say this beautifully: "None of us see ourselves as others do because we all see ourselves from the inside out, not from the outside in, as others see us."

Talk a little about how empathy, as a superpower, can help us build deeper connections and improve relationships in our communities.

Diana McLain Smith: Absolutely. If I could just stay on self-awareness for a moment—it's incredibly difficult because we see ourselves from the inside out while others see us from the outside in. Self-awareness cannot be done alone. It has to be done in relation to others who will help us see things we don't see, and vice versa.

This is a collaborative process of cultivating self-awareness. It's not sitting alone in your room thinking, "Who am I? What are my beliefs?" because some of our beliefs are implicit biases that we don't even see. Others can see them. So it's a fundamentally universal act.

Regarding empathy, my brother also wrote a book about our problems today called Tribal Fear: Fear, Empathy, and the Way Back. It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. It's all about empathy being the key.

There's a wonderful quote in To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus says to his daughter Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb in his skin and walk around in it." That always touched my heart.

But I worry that if you leave it at that, you project your own assumptions onto your experience of walking in their shoes. Two things are very important for cultivating empathy.

First, observe your stereotypes, much like in meditation when you have intrusive thoughts. You're not supposed to judge yourself, just observe them like clouds moving across the sky and let them go.

The other day, I was driving, and a guy sped up and cut me off. I thought, "What a jerk!" Then I caught myself and asked, "What's your definition of a jerk, Diana?" Someone selfish, only looking out for themselves.

Then I reframed it, thinking, "Well, maybe you've cut people off. Maybe something else was going on." Just imagining other interpretations other than "jerk." Stereotypes get in the way of our capacity to empathize.

Second, get in the habit of inquiring into people's experiences. Ask questions like, "You seemed a little agitated and interrupted John. What was going on?" or simply, "How are you doing? How are you feeling?" Get into the habit of asking about people's experiences and help them describe it, not judge it. Instead of saying, "Oh, I was just being a jerk," ask, "What were you feeling? What was going on in your heart?"

I ask people to listen for the sense, not the nonsense, in what they hear. Then you can empathize. But until then, you're not sure if you're empathizing with their experience or imposing your own assumptions. Does this make sense?

Ashish Kothari: I loved those three points you made. First, you talked about the stories we tell ourselves. I loved your explanation of, "You're a jerk. What is a jerk?" or, "You're smart," or, "You're unkind." This idea of good and bad, light and dark, are labels, right?

One thing I always go back to is: what's day and what's night? For many of us, day is when the sun comes up, and night is when the sun goes down. But it’s deeper than that. Day is when we do things, when we move around. Night is when we rest. For nocturnal animals, it's the opposite.

Diana McLain Smith: Yeah, like my husband.

Ashish Kothari: Right? But again, we have beliefs and assumptions we take for granted, and it doesn't have to be that way. I loved that.

The second point I also enjoyed, which I find so practical, is not just listening to the words but going below the iceberg to what people are feeling, thinking, or afraid of, because maybe there was something else going on that had nothing to do with the two of us.

Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with you. Something else was bothering them. I love that too, really getting to the core of it.

Diana McLain Smith: I think it's important to be empathic with people's efforts because we live in a culture, especially in organizations, where there's a myth of rationality and feelings aren't considered appropriate.

We rarely talk about our feelings with each other. We don't want to impose, and especially women might feel they're being too emotional, or an African-American man might worry about being stereotyped as an angry Black man.

There are so many sanctions against doing what we most need to do. A good friend of mine has a book coming out that I highly recommend. I'm recommending a lot of books here, but I do recommend mine too.

There's a great book by Jeff Wetzler called Ask: How to Benefit from the Wisdom of Others. He breaks down how to reduce the barriers people feel when telling you what they're really feeling.

At one point, his subtitle was, "How to Find Out What You Most Need to Know from the People Least Likely to Tell You," but his publisher changed it.

Ashish Kothari: Wow. So true though, right?

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. Get that book; it's a great read. It's coming out in May.

Ashish Kothari: I love it. I also liked your third point about creating space, observing like we do in mindfulness. Oftentimes, when we don't stop and are so busy, stereotypes affect us. We might try to empathize but only from our perspective instead of really stepping in and understanding.

Only through asking can we truly understand. You can't just say, "I can imagine myself in your shoes." No, you can't. You're still viewing things through your own lens.

Diana McLain Smith: Exactly. And listening too. We can listen without really hearing what someone is saying because it's going through the filter of our beliefs and stereotypes.

Eddie Glaude, a wonderful African American historian, wrote a book called Begin Again. It was just after Trump got reelected, and he was despairing because he couldn't figure out why the African American experience was once again being denigrated. What were we going to do?

He went back to James Baldwin, who had a similar experience when the civil rights movement burst onto the scene and brought hope, only for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to be assassinated. He wrote this book about how to hang on to hope in the face of setbacks.

One of the things Glaude talks about is history and how we read it. He made an extraordinary point: Whenever you read history—or, similarly, when you're reading a person—you've got to ask yourself, "Why did I select these facts and not others?" When we're looking at somebody, why did we choose to focus on one aspect of the person and not others?

Then, when interpreting those facts, what does it say about me that I interpret them this way and not another way? This all goes back to self-awareness. All of this helps build our self-awareness as well as our connection with others.

Ashish Kothari: I love that. On the topics of awareness and empathy, you also advocate using conflict as a catalyst to create new possibilities rather than rehashing old positions or remaking old arguments. This is at the heart of so much suffering at work.

I see this all the time. It's true in the world, but it's also true at work. You have two leaders coming in, and all they're doing is advocating for their position over and over again. Nothing is being discussed. We're just replaying the same story and wasting so much time in unproductive dialogues.

I'm curious, what practical advice or methods would you recommend, Diana, that leaders can use to truly transform conflicts into opportunities for innovation and improvement?

Diana McLain Smith: Yes, first one is to reframe how we think about conflict. Because we don’t know how to handle it well, it is oftentimes destructive, so we assume it has to be destructive. But that destructiveness is a product of our own limitations. We can reframe conflict as a potentially constructive force.

back at the beginning of the:

Second, whenever we're in a conflict, we tend to be dealing with a very complex issue where the data are not easily accessible. It's often about a future state, so there is no data. We might have different values or interests around it, and it's a very difficult topic.

Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill used to have conflicts. John Meacham wrote a wonderful book called Franklin and Winston about their relationship. He made an incredible point, almost as an aside but really fundamental:

They directed their frustration at the situation, not at each other. They understood that the situation was inherently difficult and would bring up frustration. When we get frustrated, we attribute the source of that frustration to the other person and then turn a substantive conflict into an interpersonal conflict. That's when we get stuck.

The third thing is that no matter how much we differ on the substance, all of us have been brought up in a culture where we're taught that in a conflict, you should win, not lose. Push your view. It's either-or. These fundamental cultural assumptions have got to go.

It's worth thinking about how we're behaving in the conflict and contributing to a pattern we don't like. Forget the other person; we're not getting anywhere. A typical pattern is point-counterpoint, and that's a product of what you were just saying: advocate, advocate, advocate. No inquiry, no mutual learning. It's all designed to win.

We need to learn a different approach to conflict. There are a gazillion books and seminars about this. My husband and his co-writers wrote Difficult Conversations, which is a great book about this. Getting to Yes is another fantastic book, and my husband co-authored that one too.

Isn't it a great book? He got to "yes" with me. And the first thing we did once we were married was argue over whether or not to replace our refrigerator. It was a Sub-Zero refrigerator, but I keep calling it a "Zero-Sub" refrigerator. But that's a story for another time.

One other thing: always look for the sense, not just the nonsense, in what someone is saying. Not just because it's a nice thing to do, but because there lies leverage. That's where you can build and create something new. That's what conflict can really allow us to do—create something new.

That's my penny-ante advice.

Ashish Kothari: Oh my god, I have loved every one of them. Reframing conflict as something that can be good rather than something to avoid. In my work, I often say, "Here's how to have constructive conflicts." Conflicts can be constructive; they don't have to be destructive.

Make it about the topic. In a world that's increasingly complex, complexity frustrates us. It's not the other person.

I do some work with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and I often say, "At the heart of it, when there are fewer resources to go around, it's not about holding attention on all the different places and people who want those resources. Recognize we have fewer resources, and so it is frustrating." The "win, don't lose" mindset won't get us very far in these situations.

I love "Look for the sense, not the nonsense." Find those places where we can agree because they become leverage points to find common ground where we don't agree. It also shows that we're deeply listening rather than not listening.

Diana, this has been an amazing conversation. I'm so grateful to Amy for connecting us and for you being here.

Friends, in a world where so many are losing hope, where loneliness is on the rise, where we're unhappier despite being one of the most prosperous countries, the actions we need to take all start with us.

This book, Remaking the Space Between Us: How Citizens Can Work Together to Build a Better Future for All, really offers so many amazing and inspirational stories but, more importantly, practical advice on actions we can individually take to remake the space, create deeper connections, and change the world by starting with our country.

Diana, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Diana McLain Smith: Thank you, Ashish. This was terrific fun. I really appreciate it.

Ashish Kothari: All the best with your book tour, and we'll connect soon. Bye, my friend.

.Diana McLain Smith: Thank you so much. Take good care. Bye.

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About the Podcast

The Happiness Squad
Welcome to Happiness Squad.

This is the podcast dedicated to helping you unlock your full potential by mastering the art and science of happiness.

We bring on the best leading experts on these topics to help you unlock your true potential and live with more joy, health, love, and meaning in your life.

Your host is no other than Ashish Kothari who is on a mission to provide you with an unfair advantage to be the masters of your experience and leaders in your industry.

Get ready to be moved, challenged, and enlightened on this podcast. It may change your life.

Thanks for being here and joining the squad!
Learn more: https://happinesssquad.com/

About your hosts

Ashish Kothari

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Ashish Kothari is the founder and CEO of Happiness Squad, a company focused on democratizing happiness and touching a billion+ lives over the next 20 years and helping them live with more joy, health, love, and meaning.

Prior to founding Happiness Squad and writing his best-selling book “Hardwired for happiness”, Ashish spent 25 years in consulting, including the last 17 at McKinsey and Co, a premier management consulting firm, helping thousands of clients and their organizations achieve breakthrough performance by building new mindsets and capabilities.

Ashish is a trained ontological coach and a lifelong student of human thriving.

Anil Ramjiani

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Anil Ramjiani is an experienced senior leader at Nike, Inc., most recently as the Commercial Director managing key athlete partnerships and business with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, and Marcus Rashford.

Anil's passion is grounded in empowering people, unlocking potential, and driving performance. He has worked in consulting and corporate across the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia acquiring over 20 years of experience in strategy, brand, and general management at IBM, Adidas, and Nike.

He created the podcast and platform Live. Breathe. Believe., to enable reflection, motivation, and inspiration for his peers. #Knowyoutobeyou!