The Goal is Not Common Ground, It's Higher Ground


Com·mon /ˈkämən/

Ordinary, familiar, routine

For people who fear change or avoid the unknown, finding common ground is of deep desire. I was with a colleague in Texas recently after a long day of travel, and we were tired and hungry. Clicking on Yelp, I began to explore top-rated restaurants looking for funky foods and charming cocktails. Scrolling the list, I asked him what he was in the mood for. Chipotle sounds good he said. Chipotle?!? We just landed in Dallas, a great American city with wonderful expressions, why would you want to go to Chipotle? At least we know what we will get, can't go wrong!

He was right. You can’t go wrong living an ordinary, familiar and routine life.  But there is no way you can change the world and inspire others while being common. We live in a world in which elevating our game above the divisive and dysfunction tones to get to “common ground” seems like a goal worth achieving. But when I sat with legendary “Ad-Man” Roy Spence he challenged that thought by saying: “The goal is not common ground, its higher ground!”

What a true statement. Why settle for ordinary (common) when we can reach extraordinary?

Up until Roy shared this challenge, I was relentless in finding common ground with people. Maybe we knew some of the same people, lived in the same city at one time or another or maybe we liked the same activities. I would probe and probe to find what we had in common and more often than not, we’d find something and off on an ordinary and routine conversation we’d go!

That was then, this is now.

As I sit with leaders and friends today, I'm not looking for how we can find common ground, I'm looking to see how we can create the higher ground. Here are three building blocks we can use to create the higher ground.

1. Learn something

Discovering something you have in common is not learning something.

Probe until you stumble on something in which you have no orientation. Something in which you can’t contribute, all you can do is ask, learn and become a more well-rounded human. This process will not only make you more well-rounded but also support brain health. Learning new things stimulates your neurons and neural pathways to allow electrical impulses to travel faster across them. Who doesn't want to increase brain processing power?

2. Share something

Sharing something does not mean showing a picture of your kids or telling someone about your latest accomplishments.

Think about something you have recently learned and enrich someone's life. Maybe it’s a new technology, a historical fact or a newly discovered best practice. Either way, help make the life of someone else more well-rounded. In doing so you will increase your own metacognitive processing (one’s ability to be aware). It’s interesting to think that by helping others learn, you yourself are increasing your own ability to be aware of the greater world around you. Who doesn't want greater awareness?

3. Disagree on something

I was recently asked to share what makes a good marriage. I said when two people can fight fair.

Really this just means they have the ability to agree to disagree and still learn and love well. I think part of getting to the higher ground is when you realize you disagree to not end or try and win the conversation. Work hard to learn from the other person and love them well. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D shares that a relationship cannot reach its maximum potential until the parties learn to truly accept their inevitable dissimilarities—and to take them in stride. If you want to get to higher ground built on trust, you have to prove you can handle disagreeing. Who doesn't want their relationship to reach the maximum potential?

Common ground is easy, higher ground is the goal to achieve if we are to be an extraordinary society. And hey, who doesn't want to live in an extraordinary society?