Talk to people you don’t agree with—you can even start in your own living room

In polarizing political times, it’s far too easy to self-segregate based on political beliefs. The nonprofit Living Room Conversations encourages neighbors to open up the lines of communication.

Joan Blades started Living Room Conversations to help people kickstart productive and meaningful discussions with people who have different political ideologies. Photo courtesy of Joan Blades

Why did I co-found Living Room Conversations? Because I live in Berkeley, California, and realized back in 2004 that I needed to better understand why conservatives were not concerned about global warming. As a co-founder of MoveOn I had lots of exposure to progressive viewpoints and almost no visibility on why conservatives viewed things differently. This was the beginning of my adventures with conservatives. In 2004 and 2005 I began having thoughtful and informative conversations with conservatives. And I made friends! I even visited The Hill with Michelle Combs of the Christian Coalition to support net neutrality in 2006. Clearly we disagreed about some things but we also agreed about a great deal.

By 2009 it was harder to have a good conversation with a conservative about climate change. We were separating ourselves more and more into political bubbles and living in increasingly separate narratives. This is not good for democracy! I wanted everyone to have the chance to have good conversations with people who hold different political perspectives. I believe we need to be able to work together to address the big challenges we face. So I worked with a wonderful diverse group of dialog experts to create Living Room Conversations.

Living Room Conversations are designed to assist in reweaving the fabric of our democracy, one six-person conversation at a time. In-person and online social networks tend to amplify our inclinations to only associate with people we agree with. This makes it easier to devalue those with whom we don’t agree. Living Room conversations is an antidote: a replicable and scalable platform for people to come together to form real relationships and empathize across divides. As people of good will discover they care about each other, polarization in our culture will decrease and we will be better able to address the issues of our time.

We have developed a user-friendly structure to support Living Room Conversations around the country with the ability to scale to tens of thousands on a diverse array of local and national topics. Conversations can be in-person or by video conference. We are employing a network leadership model to inspire, empower, and manage partnerships down to the community level. Faith communities, issue advocacy organizations, government, and individuals employ Living Room Conversations to include people who are unheard or missing, build relationships, increase understanding across differences, and even identify common ground.

Living Room Conversations are designed to assist in reweaving the fabric of our democracy, one six-person conversation at a time.

Living Room Conversations are a simple tool—a conversation guide—to open the door to respectful collaborative engagement. They are typically self facilitated by two co-hosts, each co-host bringing two guests—six people listening to each other to increase understanding and connection. Living Room Conversations is an open source project so we are continuously learning from our users how to expand and improve our offerings and practice.

The model has been proven and the time is ripe to scale massively as polarization has become a national talking point. The pilot project started in 2010. Activities increased substantially in 2013 and in 2017, thanks to the dramatic improvement in the availability and quality of video conferencing technology, Living Room Conversations are connecting people all across the country. We have a rapidly growing community of partners, champions and network of organizers around the country. We also have over 80 conversation topics available online.

These conversations were designed for viral capacity so that if there comes a time when there is huge demand to heal relationships, these conversations are massively replicable—there is no bottleneck caused by requiring a facilitator—everyone in the conversation shares that responsibility.

Living Room Conversations are part of a growing ecosystem of organizations and individuals working to restore our relationships and collaborative problem solving capacity. This is a simple powerful tool (conversation agreements, structure, and guides) for inviting in missing voices and opening the door to further engagement locally and nationally. We’ve learned that when people connect as fellow human beings, friendship, understanding, and even facilitated problem solving with new friends, are all natural outcomes.

Find out how to join the Living Room Conversations community or host a conversation in your home.

Joan Blades

Living Room Conversations

Joan Blades is a co-founder of an open source effort to rebuild respectful discourse across ideological, cultural and party lines while embracing our core-shared values. She is also a co-founder of and Twitter:  @LivingRoomConvo