Common ground (communication technique)

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For other uses, see common ground (disambiguation).

Finding common ground is a technique for facilitating interpersonal relationships. In order to find common ground between parties, participants must search for signals of recognition, which are often subtle and cause for misunderstanding. Generally, smiles, bland faces, or frowns can be the positive, neutral or negative signals. When verbal communication is possible, the participants can speak and then listen.

Historically, the commons in many communities were a place which was available to everyone, such as the village pump, or the sidewalk of a road. Thus even for those far from home, the sight of someone familiar only from the commons might be comforting to a homesick or lonely traveller. This effect can be seen in many kinship groups. One measure for interpersonal relationships is warmth. Thus discovery of common ground is commonly cause for comfort and additional happiness among the participants, and is one step on the way to respect or perhaps friendship.

However, to some people in small-enough communities, conflict may have occurred between them too often to find common ground, and isolation from each other is the only path toward healing and a healthy relationship. For such people, shunning of the commons is necessary. But if one is forced onto the commons, then a minimal acceptable behavior toward others is necessary when on common ground, as in a truce.

As an example, one technique for anonymous trade between mutually suspicious parties was for the offerers to lay the goods (such as gold) in a clearing (the potential common ground), and then to hide in the forest with the gold in their plain sight, while armed with weapons, in the event of treachery. Thus, the offers could be made to traders. The traders, who bore goods (and who were also armed with weapons), would lay the trade goods in the clearing, and take the gold back with them. This was a mechanism for trading between the Moors and the gold miners of Africa over a millennium ago, and also for trade with Sumatra (the isle of gold) and other islands of Southeast Asia. This has some structural similarity to the policy of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War era.

Today, we have the advantage of more highly developed communications techniques, but the basic need for minimizing suspicion and maximizing trust remains with us, worldwide, at a time when polarization is increasing.

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