Breaking Through Gridlock

The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World

Jason Jay (Author) | Gabriel Grant (Author) | Peter Senge (Foreword by)

Publication date: 05/22/2017

Breaking Through Gridlock
Conversations about social change devolve quickly into conflict when participants don t agree. Experienced practitioners Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant offer advocates and aspiring change agents six easy steps for opening the lines of communication when conversations get stuck.Think about the last time you tried to talk with someone who didn't already agree with you about issues that matter most. How well did it go?

These conversations are vital, but too often get stuck. They become contentious or we avoid them because we fear they might. What if, in these difficult conversations, we could stay true to ourselves while enriching relationships and creating powerful pathways forward? What if our divergent values provided healthy fuel for dialogue and innovation instead of gridlock and polarization? Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant invite us into a spirit of serious play, laughing at ourselves while moving from self-reflection to action. Using enlightening exercises and rich examples,
Breaking through Gridlock helps us become aware of the role we unwittingly play in getting conversations stuck. It empowers us to share what really matters – with anyone, anywhere – so that together we can create positive change in our families, organizations, communities, and society.

Read more and meet author below

Read An Excerpt


(member price: $17.96)
Free shipping on all orders from the BK Publishers store.
Or find a local bookseller with Indiebound.

Other Available Formats and Editions


(member price: $13.97)


(member price: $13.97)
Bulk Discounts
Rights Information

Featured Books

How Wealth Rules the World

Ben Price reveals that our Constitution and legal system were intentionally designed to give more rights to the wealthy propertied class...

Compassionate Counterterrorism

Islamist terrorism is not about religion, says Leena Al Olaimy, an Arab Muslim, Dalai Lama Fellow, and social entrepreneur. She identifies...

More About This Product


Conversations about social change devolve quickly into conflict when participants don t agree. Experienced practitioners Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant offer advocates and aspiring change agents six easy steps for opening the lines of communication when conversations get stuck.Think about the last time you tried to talk with someone who didn't already agree with you about issues that matter most. How well did it go?

These conversations are vital, but too often get stuck. They become contentious or we avoid them because we fear they might. What if, in these difficult conversations, we could stay true to ourselves while enriching relationships and creating powerful pathways forward? What if our divergent values provided healthy fuel for dialogue and innovation instead of gridlock and polarization? Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant invite us into a spirit of serious play, laughing at ourselves while moving from self-reflection to action. Using enlightening exercises and rich examples,
Breaking through Gridlock helps us become aware of the role we unwittingly play in getting conversations stuck. It empowers us to share what really matters – with anyone, anywhere – so that together we can create positive change in our families, organizations, communities, and society.

Back to Top ↑

Meet the Authors & Other Product Contributors

Visit Author Page - Jason Jay

Jason J. Jay holds a bachelors degree in psychology and a masters in education from Harvard and a PhD in organization studies from MIT. He is a senior lecturer in sustainability at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan.

Visit Author Page - Gabriel Grant

Gabriel Grant is a doctoral candidate in leadership and sustainability at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the founding director of the Byron Fellowship Educational Foundation. He is also an active sustainability consultant with fifteen years of experience.

Foreword by Peter Senge
Foreword author Peter Senge is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning North America and the coauthor of the bestselling book, The Fifth Discipline.

Back to Top ↑

Table of Contents






Preface: How this book came to be

Our journey xix

A note on our language xxii

Introduction: How to use this book

Serious play 2

A note on the exercises 4

Introduction summary 7

1 How We Get Stuck: Breakdowns in conversation 9

The power of conversation 10

Start where you are 15

Focus on real, live conversations 17

Power plays can't help you strengthen relationships 21

Framing breaks down in unfamiliar and polarized situations 22

Start with authenticity 26

What's possible 27

Chapter 1 summary 28

2 (In)Authenticity: The key to getting unstuck 29

Consistency with the past can lead to getting stuck 30

Dynamic authenticity is aligned with the future 31

Dynamic authenticity is a team sport 36

Chapter 2 summary 39

3 Know What You Bring: The hidden baggage of conversations 41

Our way of being is tied with our background conversation 43

Our ways of being are shared 46

Uncover your background conversations 51

Ways of being can be tricky to see 55

Is being in the eye of the beholder? 58

Being and inauthenticity 59

Chapter 3 summary 60

4 Locate the Bait: What we gain when conversations lose 61

You got yourself stuck 65

Pitfalls: Background conversations that get us stuck 67

Identifying the bait helps you get unstuck 74

Bait usually involves right, righteous, certain, and safe 76

Map out your pitfall 78

Chapter 4 summary 81 

5 Dare to Share: Moving past the talking points 83

Connect with internal motivations 86

Express what you really want 96

Embody your new way of being 104

Chapter 5 summary 108

6 Start Talking: Bringing conversations back to life

The power of apology 113

You will encounter a variety of responses 122

Results require action, and action requires commitment 123

Chapter 6 summary 127

7 Embrace the Tension: How our differences can make a difference 129

Clarify values 131

Own the polarization 135

Expand the landscape 142

Dance in the new terrain 149

Chapter 7 summary 151

8 Widen the Circle: Building inclusive movements 153

Shared inquiry is required to change the collective conversation 156

Each social movement has core tensions and pitfalls 157

Realist-visionary tensions are present in all social movements 160

Movements can have collective bait and pitfalls 164

Find the possibility at the heart of our movements 170

We have only just begun to discover the pathways forward 178

Chapter 8 summary 184





About the Authors

1 Where do you want to break through gridlock 3
2 Identify stuck conversations 18
3 What does authenticity mean to you? 29
4 What does authenticity mean to you? (ont) 34
5 Choose a buddy 37
6 Our unspoken background conversation 52
7 identify your ways of being 54
8 The Spoken conversation 52
9 The cost of being stuck 67
10 Recognize pitfall 73
11 Identify the bait in the trap 78
12 Map the pitfall 79
13 why is your endeavor important to you? 87
14 Notice what motivations you're sharing or not sharing 93
15 envision what you really want 97
16 create a new way of being 99
17 guided meditation 100
18 reframe the problem 106
19 build a new conversation 112
20 write a letter 121
21 conversation commitment 124
22 your values, their values 134
23 your values, their values 142
24 go beyond a one-dimensional conversation 147
25 brainstorm ideas that break trade-offs between values and objectives 149
26 Core tensions in your movement 163
27 locate the collective bait 169
28 envision the future together 172
29 transform the central conversation of your movement 175
30 create pathways for yourself and your movement 180
31 commit to action 182


1 our way of being gives rise to what we do and the results we have 44
2 ways of being when people are stuck 48
3 new ways of being created by our workshops participants 102
4 spheres of care 133
5 trade-offs between parts and wholes 136
6 when we perceive a fundamental trade-off between values, the best we can imagine is compromising one for the other 137
7 a on-dimensional conversation in the corporate and investing world 143
8 a common mental model of the trade-offs between performance and impact 145
9 breaking trade-offs through innovation 146
10 competing objectives 147
11 compromise or innovation? 148
12 ways of being expressed inside a positive future 173


1 statistic authenticity versus dynamic authenticity 33
2 thirty most frequently mentioned traits of a "typical" environmentalist 50
3 a few common pitfalls 68
4 elements of wholehearted and effective apologias 114
5 examples of people's acknowledgments of the pitfalls they have created 117
6 pathways forward 179

Back to Top ↑


Breaking through Gridlock


How We Get Stuck

Breakdowns in conversation

When we wake up in the morning and catch the news, it is clear that big challenges are facing our world, now and in the future. We hear about people in faraway countries and in the neighborhood next door who are having trouble making ends meet. We hear about both obesity and hunger. There are droughts and floods, fires and storms. We hear about corporations creating jobs and the next miraculous innovation—and about the next environmental catastrophe, social exploitation, and the co-opting of our democracy. Then we spill our coffee (or our children do that for us) and we have to change our shirt and rush to work—off to live our lives.

We have a lot to consider regarding the future of our children, our children’s children, and people around the globe. The issues seem tangled together. People might describe them using words like “social justice,” “public safety,” “sustainability,” or “public health,” but these words can feel hopelessly abstract. If we get a moment to step back and ponder these issues, we ask some fundamental questions. What are the most pressing challenges? How did they come to be? What should we do?

One of the biggest problems, we find, is that we have a profound lack of consensus about the nature of the problems or what to do about them.

We think differently about which problems are most important to address. We have different views about the ability of markets and governments to help. We have different relationships to science, scripture, and other ways of seeking truth. We often don’t even agree on what is going on now, much less what we want or how to get there from here. We see gridlock and polarization in the news—and all too often in our communities and organizations as well.

So what can we do—how can we break through and create agreement?

Perhaps we need grassroots consensus building. But we worry: “Is there time for that?” The issues are pressing.

Perhaps we should target key decision makers, people in positions of power who can make a difference now.

Perhaps we should rally people who think like us, getting them to advocate: to vote, donate, boycott, buy responsibly, petition, talk to their organizational or political representation.

Each formula for action has one thing in common: having conversations with people.

The power of conversation

Cesar Chavez was a migrant farmworker who became one of America’s great civil rights activists. A student once asked him how he organized. Cesar replied, “First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” “No, how do you organize?” the student insisted. Cesar repeated, “First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” 1

Through personally connecting with the people in our lives, we can mobilize others to join our cause. They are in our family, in our neighborhood, in our organization, and in our marketplace. Some of the conversations we have are with people who share our passions and views, and we want to mobilize them into action. Some are with people who are indifferent, and we want to inspire them to care. Some are with people “across the aisle” whom we want to debate and persuade to change. Harnessing the power of conversation means taking each of these opportunities seriously.

We occasionally encounter skeptics of this approach: “How can we tackle big systemic issues like inequality or climate change through one-on-one conversations?” “Maybe if you are a CEO of a major corporation, then your conversations have power, but mine don’t.” If these thoughts are crossing your mind, consider a conversation between Melissa Gildersleeve and her mom, Joyce LaValle, who was a regional sales manager for Interface flooring.

Joyce remembers what happened one day when Melissa, an undergraduate at Warren Wilson College, was visiting home:

I came home from the grocery store and they had just introduced plastic carrying bags. I said to Melissa, “Isn’t this fabulous? I can put them all on my arm, carry several at a time. This is such an innovation.” She just really lost it. She said, “That’s really great, except you certainly aren’t thinking about the future or my future when you are celebrating that.” It was kind of a rude awakening. I didn’t get it . . . plastic bags . . . what were they made of, they would never go away. You couldn’t throw them in the trash to break down. A whole conversation began then with Melissa.

When she read Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce, 2 she said, “You read it and then you know what, Mommy? I am looking at landfills and going to them . . . you should start understanding about carpet and how huge it is in the landfill. And it is not going to break down.” That was another kind of a big awakening. That was the connective tissue to the job I did and the harm that was being caused as a by-product. She sent me the book. She said, “Read it, and understand it, and make sure Interface understands it. Because something has to change.” She knew I worked at Interface and thought I could do something about it, or at least bring it up.

Joyce wasn’t sure she could do anything about carpets in landfills—no one in the company was talking about this kind of thing—but she knew the vice president of sales, who had access to the office of the CEO, a man named Ray Anderson. Joyce mailed a copy of Hawken’s book to the VP and asked him to put it on the corner of Ray’s desk that was always kept clear.

Ray read the book and saw the problems with his “take-make-waste” business model. As a result, he became one of the first and most vocal corporate executives to make the environment his focus. Ray Anderson’s writing, speaking, and action in his firm propelled the whole field of sustainable business forward. 3

Joyce said, “I was trying to follow through with what I had promised to Melissa. I didn’t have any strong feeling that it was going to make any difference.” We rarely know where our conversations will lead and it may be decades if you ever come to know the results.

We also encounter people who do not want to see themselves as activists or organizers working toward a societal transformation. You may want to work on a smaller scale, nudging habits and behaviors in your immediate family or team so people can be healthier and more responsible. You may simply want to “be the change” through your own actions. Our experience, however, is that each of these routes for action still requires conversation. You will have conversations with your office mates or family members about what you are doing. You will ask people for moral support. You will want to share what you’ve done so as to inspire others. Only when we make these conversations effective can we achieve our goals. And as we’ll explore, you will also have conversations with yourself along the way.

The following chapters are about how all those conversations go—conversations about the future we are heading into and the future we want to create.

Too often we avoid these conversations or we give up on them because we just know they are going to go awry. At some point you might have gotten into a political sparring match over an otherwise friendly dinner table and learned that some issues appear to be too contentious to discuss. We may want to engage with our colleagues, neighbors, spouse, parents, and in-laws about the issues that matter to us, but we fear our efforts will be futile. We all hear and say things like “That’s why I’ve learned not to talk politics at family gatherings,” “That’s why I don’t talk about my values with my colleagues.” When issues get polarized, we protect ourselves from getting zapped.

The irony is that this challenge is one that we share with our friends and relatives on all sides of the political spectrum. Whether we prefer to tune into Fox News and Glenn Beck or we’re in the NPR and Democracy Now! crowd, the other camp seems absurd and too distant for us to reach.

In our experience, polarization is not a matter of how far left or right your ideologies are. Polarization is the breakdown in healthy communication or dialogue that includes divergent values.

Even our own organizations contain subgroups—one more concerned with social impact and another more concerned with financial performance. If we try to engage across these lines, the conversations often don’t go the way we want. More often, we simply avoid the conversations altogether. Whether we’ve crashed and burned or sidestepped a difficult conversation entirely, we’re left with the same result. We’re stuck in a place where the only people we’re engaging with are those who already agree with us. We continue “preaching to the choir” in an echo chamber of like-minded friends and online social networks. 4

With big, pressing issues, this won’t be enough. We’re not going to end poverty or human rights violations by talking among social justice advocates. Similarly, we’re not going to solve global climate change, habitat loss, or water pollution by rallying only the tried-and-true environmental activists. And we’re not going to solve obesity without reaching outside the circle of public health advocates. All of these challenges require big changes—from new personal habits to innovation to shifts in public policy. They require constituencies of supporters far greater than what we have now. And yet we so often find ourselves falling short. It seems so hard to effectively share what’s most important to us in conversations that could make a difference.

The purpose of this book is to create a new set of possibilities. By harnessing the power of conversation, we can break through gridlock and turn polarization into useful energy to accomplish our goals.

Start where you are

How do we take these big-picture issues of gridlock and polarization down to the level of one-on-one conversations between people? We look for where we personally have gotten stuck.

First, let’s define “being stuck.” It means taking (or avoiding) action repeatedly without achieving our stated goals.

We don’t always notice when we’re stuck. The first time our default strategy doesn’t work, we might decide to try again or try harder. In a conversation, we’ll repeat ourselves or attempt to explain ourselves. Then, maybe we adapt our approach, using slightly different words. We may bring in outside sources, facts, and perspectives. We may continue on a number of iterations, thinking, “Why don’t they get it?” Or we may point the finger at ourselves and think, “What else can I do to get through to them?”

At some point in this journey, we may become resigned. We may decide that our goals just aren’t worth pursuing—or at least not with the people we’re talking with. You may say to yourself, “It’s time to move on.”

If that were really the case, we don’t think you would have read this far into the book. Admit it: you care. We think you are reading this book because you share some goals with us and with your fellow readers:

• We want to take action in our own lives or engage others to produce some common good.

• We want people and other life to thrive around us.

• We want ourselves to thrive.

Being stuck means that we are repeatedly having a conversation, or repeatedly avoiding a conversation, and yet we are not achieving our goals. Instead, we are creating the following costs and consequences:

• We give up on our own power to take action.

• We fail to engage or inspire people, or worse, we inspire active resistance.

• We leave people suffering around us rather than flourishing.

• We diminish rather than strengthen relationships.

Does this mean we are bad, terrible, awful people? Of course not. We’re just stuck.

Our goal is to help you be more effective—to define results that are meaningful to you and to achieve them. To do that, we’ll start by reflecting on the specific situations where we find ourselves stuck. We will ask you to choose one conversation from among those you listed in exercise 1 and reflect on it a bit more.

Focus on real, live conversations

A quick word of warning: Whenever people come to us to learn how to be more effective advocates and leaders, we ask them to reflect on a conversation that is stuck. Some people have a very specific conversation that’s important to them and they come straight out with it. Many people, however, instantly transform into masters of avoidance. We are each artfully skilled at avoiding real conversations that matter in real life.

To avoid reflecting on a specific conversation with a specific person, you might be tempted to refer to a group or class of people—for example, “When I talk to management . . .” You might effortlessly create a theoretical conversation that has never actually happened but speak about it as though it’s real—for example, “If I were to speak to Governor [of a state I’ve never been to] . . . “

In our workshops, we’ve seen people talk about a specific conversation with a specific person for twenty minutes before they reveal that the person is dead or left the company years ago or is otherwise no longer a part of their lives. If you’ve met people only in passing, never got their names and could not find them again if you wanted to, these are not powerful conversations to work on. They’re unreal, or at a minimum, they are not “live” examples. These are decoys or diversions from doing the difficult work of taking on real conversations that matter to you. Keep it real.

Our goal is to help you look at these stuck conversations and get them unstuck by supporting authentic conversations. To clarify why that might be the right approach for you, we will first consider the alternative strategies, which we group into two categories: power plays and framing.

Power plays can’t help you strengthen relationships

A number of strategies that might occur to us in stuck conversations could be labeled as “power plays.” These are things to say and do that could help you achieve your goals without having to engage deeply with your opponent. These include the following:

• Going around the person by talking to other influential people in the situation or going over the person’s head

• Redirecting money or other incentives to coerce the person

• Waiting until the person is no longer in a position of influence or the issue becomes irrelevant

• Picking your battles—letting one issue drop to free up time, resources, and political capital to work on another

• Exiting the situation because you don’t see any possibility for change

We can’t cover all these strategies thoroughly in this book. If they seem like the right fit for your situation, other books can help you navigate power and politics in this way. 5

But what if you think those methods won’t apply well to your situations or they are inadequate to fulfill your goals? Ask yourself whether any of the following apply:

• You don’t have power at your disposal; you lack resources or authority.

• You do not want to disempower the person.

• You do not want to exit: the issue is important or urgent.

• You want to share your values such that they inspire others.

• You simply care about the person a great deal.

• You are looking for something greater that could emerge out of a creative dialogue.

• You hold a minority view or you want to inspire others to join your cause.

If your situation fits some of these criteria, then you are probably interested in a different approach. You may want to keep the power and influence strategies in your back pocket as your backup, 6 but you’d prefer a way of engaging that could strengthen your relationship and produce more optimal results.

Framing breaks down in unfamiliar and polarized situations

The next set of options you are likely to encounter are more subtle forms of influence, which also have their pros and cons. We’ll call these “framing” or “translation” strategies. For example, many books and consultants tell us to make the business case for diversity or sustainability or social responsibility. They argue that making our organizations friendlier to women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT communities will increase the quality of our talent pool. They ask us to show how going “green” can be “gold” by reducing costs. 7 They explain how social responsibility can increase employee engagement or loyalty.

Many of these ideas trace back to linguist George Lakoff, who examines the language and ideas behind political movements. 8 He suggests that we should use “frames” and metaphors that make our goals appear to fit with others’ values. We should speak the other person’s language. These strategies are useful and an essential piece of the puzzle.

Here is an example of what we mean by framing. John Frey from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) was a workshop participant whom we interviewed for this book. He works on sustainability strategy and is in charge of engaging with HPE’s customers to help them advance their social and environmental performance through the use of HPE solutions. In the early days, he would get invited to customer presentations to talk about his own company’s work on these issues. He would share HPE’s philanthropic work and efforts at reducing their carbon footprint in the hope that HPE’s internal efforts might inspire their customers.

I’m having these conversations, and I’m recognizing that people are starting to zone out. They’re starting to do e-mail. They’re starting to almost go to sleep. I’m thinking to myself as I’m presenting this slide deck, in real time, “What the heck is going on here? How do we have such a big miss?” Clearly, I’m passionate . . . [but] why can’t I get them excited about something that I’m excited about? That was sort of an “aha!” moment for me, to take a step back and say, I’m speaking English to someone that only speaks French—no great surprise they’re not very engaged.

This experience prompted John to reconsider his approach. He began sitting in on full days of customer briefings to better understand customers’ particular challenges. He asked questions and listened. And he worked to frame his messaging in terms of his customers’ specific needs.

As I started doing that, people started paying attention. . . . We are not only talking their language, but I’ll refer to their business plans and say, “Your business plan says you have this challenge, so let me talk to you a little bit about how I can help you do that.” . . . There’s a much deeper level of connection and credibility that enables me to provide value to them for things that they had never connected to sustainability.

Throughout the book you will see great examples of people doing this kind of translation work. You can study and mimic what works for them. John has trained an entire department to “get past sustainability speak” and use the language and branding he’s created for what HPE calls “Efficient IT.”

The framing approach may work well for you, and we encourage you to try it. However, we have seen four ways that the translation and framing approach repeatedly runs into trouble, particularly when issues have gotten polarized and stuck. As a result, we revisit the idea of framing in chapters 5 and 7 but did not make it the focus of this book.

The first trouble occurs when we are reframing our agenda as a way to meet others’ goals, but we don’t really care that much about their goals. For example, we know we should frame energy efficiency as a short-term cost savings, but what we are actually passionate about is the chance to prevent climate change. When this happens, the agenda can feel false and it can be beyond challenging to say the right words in the right frame in real time.

Second, others may not buy your carefully framed argument because they suspect there is something you are not saying. They may have a background of mistrust for your primary motivations or those of your group. People often notice when they are being manipulated.

Third, when others push back on our carefully framed arguments, we get frustrated. We find ourselves in a heated debate, or we avoid a conversation entirely because we fear we might. We often retreat to our well-worn habit of preaching to the choir about how “they don’t get it.”

The fourth issue is that we may not know which frame to use because no one has done this particular translation before. We might think we know what Democrats, Republicans, or chief financial officers in general care about. But we haven’t done the research. We haven’t shared deep conversations with them. Or our attempt may fall flat because we haven’t yet developed a frame or translation that is specific to this organization and this person in this situation.

The intention of this book is not to help you create a script with talking points in response to every argument. As we said in the preface, getting a stuck conversation unstuck is not about finding “the right thing to say” but about making a fundamental shift in who we are being, freeing ourselves up for a creative and authentic new approach.

Start with authenticity

A key step in this journey is to develop a new perspective on authenticity. When we connect with others in authentic conversations, we can make progress toward a better world—a world beyond what we ever thought possible. Getting there, however, requires confronting the key sources of inauthenticity that drive conversations into patterns of predictable pitfalls. We organized this book to help you navigate pathways through otherwise hazardous terrain.

We go into depth about authenticity in chapter 2. Most of the time, people use “authentic” to describe when a person is acting consistently with the past. Unfortunately, this idea gets us stuck. It roots people in predictable patterns, re-creating the divisions and conflicts of the past. We help you experience a new notion of authenticity, one based on matching who we are with the future we want to create. To break the pattern, we come clean with others and ourselves about the ways we have been inauthentic. We can then generate new conversations that are aligned with our values. The subsequent five chapters take you through a series of steps to do just that.

What’s possible

Imagine if activists and advocates were seen as being authentic, honest, moving, open, inspiring, powerful, kind, and compassionate. We think a whole new discourse is possible in movements toward social and environmental change. Our movements can become a source of flourishing for the people involved—on the way toward the flourishing of all life. As that happens, our efforts will be inviting and expansive and will grow to the quality and scale needed to create the world we want.

Along the way, we will improve our relationships with the people who matter most in our lives. Those expanded relationships will create the foundation on which we can effect change and will be a source of our own vitality. That is a surprising result we often see in our work. We have observed how some healing and growth can provide much-needed nourishment for the tireless advocate.

The starting point is your own reflection. As we said in the introduction, this book will be a journey. Each chapter will be an experiential inquiry, inviting you to explore, unpack, and transform the conversations that matter to you. Provided you take on the exercises, you’ll soon be harnessing the power of conversation.

chapter 1 summary

•  We have a profound lack of consensus about the nature of the world’s problems or what to do about solving them.

•  Every formula for action and problem solving has one thing in common: having conversations with people.

•  Conversations about big issues often get stuck. Being stuck means taking or avoiding action repeatedly without achieving our stated goals. When we care about something and we’re stuck, there are consequences.

•  Other approaches to stuck issues and conversations include power plays and framing or translation. Our book explores the power and possibility of authentic conversations to create a better world.

•  Do the work: Choose one real, live conversation for further reflection and exploration in the chapters ahead.

Back to Top ↑


“A field manual for change agents on how to build bridges across differences and move from talk to action.”
—Adam Grant, Professor of Management, The Wharton School, and New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

“This book is not for the fainthearted, but if you truly want to change the world, it gives us the tools and the inspiration to do so.”
—Gwen Ruta, Senior Vice President, Climate and Energy, Environmental Defense Fund

“Our country's future depends on our ability to reach beyond our echo chambers. Jay and Grant guide us through starting the conversations so crucial to our democracy.”
—Van Jones, cofounder and President, The Dream Corps; CNN contributor; and author

“We need the creativity that can be harnessed from competing perspectives to craft a thriving organization and a thriving society. This book gives people the tools to take that on.”
—John Mackey, CEO, Whole Foods Market

“Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant single out authenticity as the key to breaking through the conversational gridlock that afflicts so many of our public and private interactions. They highlight the traps we fall into, as well as promising pathways for working our way out of them. It won't be easy, but you can use the exercises they offer to practice sidestepping the polarizing moves we make without even being aware of what we are doing.”
—Lawrence Susskind, founder of the Consensus Building Institute; Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, MIT; and Vice Chair, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School

“Whether you're hoping to shift your company, your community, or even yourself, Jay and Grant have produced an accessible and practical guide that will make you chuckle with recognition—then motivate you to get to work.”
—Christine Bader, author of The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist

"In this savvy and highly practical book, Gabriel Grant and Jason Jay offer a way forward for groups that get stuck in seemingly hopeless, zero-sum conflicts. It should be required reading not only for corporate offices but also for congregations who preach unity and peace, but don't always know how best to achieve them. And in a period of real polarization and deep division in our national culture, this is a book for our time."
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, XXVII Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

"Conversations are the most important leverage point for leaders and change makers. Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant offer critical insights and tools that will help you craft better conversations and thus a better world."
Otto Scharmer, Founder, Presencing Institute, and author of Theory U and Leading from The Emerging Future

Back to Top ↑