By John Denny

The mere mention of the word “January” calls a few things to mind: snow, thick socks, football playoffs, and – most notably for me – New Year’s resolutions.  And even if it’s a couple weeks late, we’ve been thinking a lot lately at the DCS office about our resolutions for the coming year.

So with that in mind, I hope you’ll join us in committing to one resolution that seems timelier than ever considering the current political climate: to engage in active, thoughtful listening to the people around us, even if – no, especially if – we disagree with them.

Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, who is both a friend and someone I deeply admire, recently wrote a blog post entitled, “Silence.”  It is an incredibly well written, spot-on piece that encourages all of us – especially considering the current maelstrom of “fake news” and misinformation – not to be silent. I agree.  But for me, the first step towards speaking out is to listen – something I admittedly have to practice every day.

At Denny Civic Solutions, when we take on a new client, project, or campaign, the first thing we always do is a “listen and learn” tour.  For example, whenever we develop a new civic campaign for our clients at the Campaign for What Works, we dedicate several weeks to traveling the state and meeting with a diverse group of individuals, organizations, policy makers, funders, providers, and other influencers.  These are one-on-one conversations wherein we seek to pick their brain and gain their wisdom. More often than not, these conversations open our minds to new thoughts and creative thinking.  Yes, we rely on secondary and attitudinal research, but the one-on-one conversations really are the key to learning.

Our 2017 office resolution expands on that “listen and learn” model.  As such, we pledge to:

  1. Identify and meet with people who will test some of our beliefs;
  2. Not argue with people we disagree with on social media, but rather seek out one-on-one, in-person conversations;
  3. Get out of our “media bubble” by forcing ourselves to watch news channels we normally wouldn’t;
  4. Try hard to identify the pain – that sometimes leads to fear, that sometimes turns to anger – in people we may disagree with; and
  5. Work hard to become friends to someone with a different opinion or worldview.
If my team and I can be true to this resolution in 2017, then we will be all the more prepared to take up Grant Oliphant’s call to speak out when we are needed, but with an understanding made richer and deeper by truly listening to those who disagree.