The Courage to Connect. Guests: Ciaran O’Connor and John Wood, Jr.

March 4, 2021

It’s no revelation that Americans aren’t getting along. But Braver Angels is working to address this problem. The organization brings Americans together to bridge the partisan divide, offering tools and running workshops that convince Republicans and Democrats to meet but not necessarily in the middle. “Conflict can actually be a pathway to intimacy and connection rather than division, if you have the right structure for bringing people together,” says Ciaran O’Connor, the organization’s Chief Marketing Officer. We’re delighted to have Ciaran and Braver Angels' National Ambassador John Wood, Jr. on the show to describe their methods, largely based on marriage counseling techniques, and to talk about where to go next. “How do you scale that up and apply that to the digital space, given that that is the key battlefield?” asks John. Technology companies play a role here, and the wisdom of people doing the work on the ground is a valuable guide.


John Wood, Jr.

John Wood, Jr. is a former nominee for Congress and a former Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. A noted writer and speaker on the subjects of political and racial reconciliation, John’s written work has been featured in publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Examiner and Quillette Magazine. He is a national spokesperson for the bipartisan organization Braver Angels and lives in South Los Angeles with his wife and three children.


Ciaran O'Connor

Ciaran O'Connor is the Chief Marketing Officer at Braver Angels, the nation's largest nonprofit dedicated to bringing liberals and conservatives together at the grassroots level. He previously served as a communications staffer on the Obama 2012 and Clinton 2016 presidential campaigns. He is a public speaker known for his TEDx talk: "How to Talk Politics When You Disagree."


Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Conflict can actually be a pathway to intimacy and connection rather than division—if you have the right structure to bring people together.
  • Braver Angels is working to create community and ongoing relationships reinforced through communication, workshops, collaboration, and shared rituals. For example:
  • ~Focusing on a common goal or objective can help us cooperate and find common ground with people we disagree with.
  • ~In an exercise called a “fishbowl,” people sit silently and observe while their political opposites describe themselves in their own language. This approach helps us break down stereotypes and build shared understanding. 
  • ~When interacting with people you disagree with, remember the acronym “LAPP” or Listen, Acknowledge, Pivot (evaluate the situation and consider what you want to say), and Perspective (now share your thoughts if the other person has indicated interest).
  • Sometimes it’s our own side exacerbating stereotypes and preventing us from meeting and finding common ground with the other side. 
  • We need to root conversations in local communities. Braver Angels emphasizes a sense of civic culture that equates loving your country with empathy and concern for your neighbors, and even your adversaries.

Take Action

Build trust

Invite someone in your life with different political views into conversation. Try to build trust and understanding by asking about the life experiences that have shaped their political views and by sharing your own. 

Open up

Discuss the stereotypes you have of one another and where they feel oversimplified or untrue. Approach the conversation with the goal of mutual understanding.

Listen, Acknowledge, Pivot, Perspective (LAPP)

Discover more about LAPP, a Braver Angels framework for finding common ground: Listen to understand, not reload. Acknowledge what you heard. Pivot by assessing whether it is OK to offer your views. Offer your perspective (if the person has signaled a willingness to hear it).

Jump in

Join a Braver Angels event near you.

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