A Letter to Post Election Congress in Hopes of Bipartisan Cooperation

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As I look at Congress, it appears more like a cross between a Rubik’s cube that can’t be solved and the deck chairs on the Titanic when it comes to cooperation and collaboration in the best interests of all the American people sinking further and further away from possibility.

The reason for that is that you can’t solve a transformational problem with transactional solutions. To continue functioning with transactional myopia — pick a fight, win the fight, next fight — further keeps Congress from serving the American people. Rather than acting like adults they are more like a bitter couple going through a divorce where the best interests of the children are ignored.

What would be necessary to transform a combative Congress into one that cooperates, collaborates and at the very least, communicates?

Indira Gandhi once said: “You cannot shake hands with a closed fist.”

What would it take for Democrats, Republicans and Independents to unclench their fists?

Another way of saying that is what would it take for all sides to lower their guards enough to listen to each other with open minds. Perhaps British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion described it best when he talked about “listening without memory or desire.” By that he meant that when you listen with memory you are listening through an old personal/partisan agenda that you are trying to force someone else into. And when you listen with desire you are listening through a present or future agenda where you are trying to do the same. But in neither case are you considering and much less even listening to the other person’s agenda.

What would it take to switch from listening with memory and/or desire to listening without either? Doing such requires what I have referred to a becoming a PAL, which stands for Purposeful Agendaless Listening. And the purpose? To listen with an open, unfiltered and unbiased and what has been referred to as a “beginner’s mind.”

Doing that would require causing each party to first not just drop their agenda, but to unclench their fists and lower their guard.

This can be accomplished by using an approach that causes people to lower their guard and be eager to hear what comes next. Such an approach is available by each party offering the other an olive branch on steroids.

That consists of five steps:

1. One person from one party reaching out to a resistant and perhaps even recalcitrant member of another party and saying, “When might we have call or better yet meet for lunch, because I have discovered that I owe you an apology, and I’ve owed it to you for some time and I would the chance to give it to you?” (Of course, the other person may stonewall this, but the majority of human beings would be very curious and intrigued by it, because unsolicited apologies are so rare in our lives).

2. When you meet with your opponent say, “Would you agree that we see x, y and z very differently?” (Hopefully, they will respond with, “Yes”)

3. Then say, “If that is true, I owe you an apology for never making the effort to understand how you came to think and believe that, and I’m sorry for that.”

4. Then say (and this is the olive branch on steroids part), “And furthermore, something I owe you an even bigger apology for and something I am embarrassed about is that I didn’t even want to make that effort because I had no interest in understanding your position, because I was so invested in shoving my position on and at you. And I was wrong to do that.”

5. Then finally say, “If you are willing, and you can respectfully say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ I would like to unburn a bridge between us and if you would agree, I would be happy and grateful to sit down with you for as long as it takes and I will just listen to your position, how you came to it and how and why you believe in it and I will only ask questions to ask you to clarify what you are saying.”

There is however a caveat to this.

There may be many members of Congress who push back because they don’t know why they support a position other than it is part of their party line.

However, this approach gives such people the chance to step out of being lemmings, blindly loyal to their party, and offers them the chance to be loyal to the all the people they serve.

So, stop the ongoing divorce and think of what’s in our best interest, because that is something all Americans deserve.

Mark Goulston is the author of: “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM/Harper Collins) which became the top book on listening in the world.

Dr. Goulston is the inventor of Surgical Empathy, a speaker, executive coach & the author of "Just Listen" which became the top book on listening in the world.

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