So many of our big issues need cooperation but instead we use the language of opposition. Rather than being harmless, I think it damages our ability to work together to get the outcomes we need and want.
When facts are contested and the stakes are high what we get, more often than not, is opposition.
There’s no quick fix here. I think cooperative communication is a high-investment activity where you share the risk and share the consequences.
But I have one recommendation, which all of us can do.
Put aside the language of opposition. It’s everywhere, deeply embedded in what we write and say.
One example that I see and hear all the time is the phrase ‘both sides’. It’s in everything from environmental management to economic planning—and, of course, politics.
There are rarely only two sides. If we genuinely want solutions, then we are going to have to have an open and deliberative approach to finding it—one that involves people talking together, rather than ‘sides’.
This might seem trivial, but language like this primes people for opposition. Even if you’re saying that we need to listen to ‘both sides’, you’ve sent a subtle but clear signal that this is a contest between two irreconcilable positions, for and against. New information, better ways of understanding the problem, other positions will not even be heard.
Our language is packed tight with metaphors. We couldn’t do without them, so we have to pay attention to what we do with them.