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How Humans Find Common Ground - And The Science Behind It

Dr Chris Brauer used 80 years of psychosocial research to create 'The Science of Common Ground' - a study about human nature - and this is what he discovered.
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Dr Chris Brauer used 80 years of psychosocial research to create 'The Science of Common Ground' - a study about human nature - and this is what he discovered.

Embracing diversity, showing empathy and being open to relationships and social interactions forms the basis of finding and building common ground with others. Our research collaboration at Goldsmiths, University of London with Heineken for its 'Open your World' campaign explores the psychology and science of common ground and the impact it has on leading an exciting, meaningful and enriched life.

Over 80 years of psychological research shows us the true value of establishing common ground. When viewing individuals without our own pre-conceived notions, we can open the doors for stronger, meaningful and progressive relationships. This allows us to achieve a higher level of contentment and real happiness. Our core human need to be unconditionally valued and accepted drives both our life satisfaction and our ability to function effectively in everyday life.

It is crucial to understand the value of openness to new experiences and common ground in a period of global dialogue often focused on alienation and distrust of the 'other'. Highly open people are positively perceived and appreciated by others, seen as influential, humorous and expressive, and have happier relationships and more successful careers. Those successful at establishing common ground recognise that being constructive and supportive towards others is wholly compatible with advancing your own interests.

Our research identifies five aspects of human nature key to establishing common ground:

Common ground as adventurousness and risk taking

Our findings show that building common ground essentially requires bravery - the ability to put yourself 'out there' to be accepted is literally an adventure into the unknown. Establishing common ground means making the decision to move forward despite our insecurities, to reach out towards new people and ask them to engage with us. Rather than providing a short-term adrenaline boost, the creation of common ground promises the co-creation of true meaning and purpose. Primarily through shared thoughts, experiences or personality traits.

Common ground as shared identity

A person who sees themselves as a citizen of the world has a shared social identity with (and is inextricably connected to) every other member of the world, regardless of nationality or background. This connection has been proven to promote mutual understanding and actively build a common ground. The borders that separate people no longer exist when we shift our focus from "I" to "we". Feeling a shared sense of identity and lack of barriers becomes the basis for human compassion and lay the foundation for a common ground.

Common Ground as tolerance and acceptance of diversity

Tolerance is to respect others beliefs and practices without sharing in them. Research has shown that people adept in building common ground are more likely to be intrigued by differences rather than be threatened by them. Negative stereotypes are the core of prejudice, which is a self-created barrier that separates us from people seen as different, and is antithetical to common ground.

Fortunately, we found that interpersonal contact is the most effective way to reduce prejudice. As relationships evolve, motivated builders of common ground send signals of tolerance, empathy and acceptance and through their acceptance of diversity, there emergences a common ground.

Common Ground as empathy and responsiveness

An empathetic concern is the ability to recognise another's emotional state and show appropriate concern. We argue that positive relationships are built through progressive cycles of communication, described in terms of the presentation phase (the sender, who relays information) and the acceptance phase (the receiver, who gives feedback showing that the information has been heard). The role of responsiveness in building common ground requires both sides to see the world from each other's point of view, and treating each other's concerns/interests respectfully.

Common Ground as enabling mutually-beneficial goals

It is important to note that successfully building common ground is reliant on identifying mutually beneficial goals by creating win-win situations. Through helping behaviour and reaching out to another person and showing them a way to facilitate their goals, we can achieve a common ground.

Another line of research exploring social relationships speaks directly to the motivation in building common ground. It shows that people are driven by self-enhancement motives and ecosystem motivation to promote oneself and other's needs. They tend to see their social connections as interpersonal ecosystems that thrive when the needs of the people in the system are met.

The absolute core of common ground is truly hearing the interests and concerns of another person, openly and without judgement. After you listen, then listen some more.

Is there more that unites us than divides us? See how Heineken are striving to show we can all find common ground


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