Finding common ground with anyone: A quick and easy guide

August 25, 2021 - 13 min read

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What is common ground?

Benefits of reaching common ground with someone

How to find common ground with people

The art of negotiating and how it relates to finding common ground

6 ways to be good at negotiating with someone

Finding common ground will improve your relationships

Whether you’re talking with someone you know or with a stranger, you won’t always agree on everything.

We all come from different backgrounds. As a result, we see things differently and hold different beliefs.

But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to agree, or at least be amicable and respectful. By finding common ground, you can see eye-to-eye with someone else for a moment. It then becomes easier to see eye-to-eye on other topics you previously didn’t agree on at all. 

It doesn't mean that you'll end up changing your mind. Or, that the other person will. But you will realize that there are areas of agreement, and you might walk away feeling less diametrically opposed. You'll be more able to work together toward common goals.

Let’s explore what is common ground and how you can use it as a communication tool to become better at conflict resolution.

What is common ground? 

Common ground is a topic, opinion, or interest that two or more people can agree about. Even when two people disagree on something, common ground can help bring them together.

Too often, whether at work or in life, we focus on our differences. It's easy to fixate on the parts of someone's argument or beliefs that we disagree with — we don't even notice all of the parts where we agree.

When you find common ground with someone, you don’t have to agree on everything. You have overlapping interests or topics of agreement with the other person. But there is still ground you don’t share or agree on.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re debating with your peer at work about organizing a retreat for your team.

They believe the retreat should focus on leadership skills. You believe it should focus on conflict resolution.

But you both agree that the retreat should include mental health awareness.

This opinion is the common ground between the two of you. Once you spend a few minutes discussing this area of agreement, you might both be more open to hearing the other's opinion about the ideas where you differ.

Benefits of reaching common ground with someone

Reaching common ground isn’t always easy. But it does have its benefits.

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1. Brings people together

The common ground approach can bring people together during a conflict.

When you focus on what you have in common, you can see eye to eye.

This can help you feel more at ease with someone who doesn’t agree with you. You can develop empathy for each other.

2. Make friends more easily

When you’re able to find common ground, you’ll also be better at making friends and getting along with others.

That’s because you’re able to go out of your way to find common interests.

This will help you develop closer bonds with people you know. Reaching common ground helps you go from seeing the other person as someone who is different from you to seeing yourselves as a unified “us.” 

3. Avoid echo chambers

Finding common ground can also help disrupt ideological echo chambers. Echo chambers are when everyone’s views sound the same as everyone else’s. 

For instance, 35% of people say that most of their close friends share their political views.

When you find common ground with someone who doesn’t agree with you, you open yourself up to hearing other opinions and points of view instead.

How to find common ground with people

Let’s explore how you can find common ground with people, whether it’s someone you know or a complete stranger.

Finding common ground with a stranger

Finding common ground with a stranger can help you grow your network.

First, avoid prying too much. Don’t ask too many personal questions right away. It’s okay to discuss something if the other person brought it up first.

Next, analyze your current situation to find common ground. If you’re both at a cafe, chances are you both like coffee.

Find something about your current situation that could tell you something about the other person. Then, ask them about it. Tell them you’d like to know more about their opinion on the subject.

Just don’t dive too deep into your own personal life. This can make the other person feel uneasy or uncomfortable.

You can also use the power of story to connect with the other person. The human experience has more common ground than not.

Share stories about things you experienced in the past and how that made you feel.

When you focus on how you feel, the other person may recognize situations in which they felt this way, too.

Finally, embrace small talk. Even if you dislike small talk, it’s important to stay engaged during this part of a conversation.

Small talk helps find small bits of common ground before diving deeper into a conversation.

Don’t rush it or act disinterested. This will not help the other person open up to you.

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Finding common ground with someone you know

The beauty of someone you know is that you have a history together. That history usually provides some common ground.

If you have a disagreement with someone you know, tell them that you want to find common ground. Be upfront about why you want to find common ground: because the area of disagreement matters to you but the relationship also matters to you.

Let them know how you feel about the current conflict. Then, you can ask them if they want to do the same.

Acknowledge your differences first. The truth is that you don’t have the same life experience as the other person.

As a result, you don’t hold the same beliefs. And that’s okay.

Acknowledge this instead of leaving it as an elephant in the room.

During your conversation, pay attention to how the other person is feeling and be respectful of how they feel at all times. 

Here’s an example. If the other person seems uncomfortable, ask them if they are okay. If it turns out they are feeling uneasy, maybe it’s time for a breather.

You should also show interest in what they have to say. Use body language to show you’re engaged. Make eye contact, keep your arms uncrossed, and smile.

Dig deeper into common ground questions when you find a topic you’re both interested in. Ask a follow-up question to find out more about the other person’s experience.

Here’s an example:

“Oh, you also visited France? What was that like?”

Ask open-ended questions without judgment, and try not to leap ahead with assumptions.

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The art of negotiating and how it relates to finding common ground

What is the difference between negotiation and finding common ground? Let’s dive in.

What is negotiation?

Negotiation is a way to settle differences and find agreement.

A negotiation can lead to an agreement or a compromise between two parties. But it also avoids falling into a dispute or argument.

Finding common ground can happen outside of negotiations. But during negotiation, it’s a tool to find places where two or more people agree.

Why is it essential to find common ground?

Common ground mediation makes it more likely to find an outcome that satisfies both parties.

At first, both parties come from two different positions. You need to find a way to come to an agreement.

This may be difficult at first. If there is no common ground, there is no space to come together and bring your points of view closer to each other.

On the other hand, common ground narrows the playing field.

Because you understand each other a little better, you may be able to reach a compromise more easily.

6 ways to be good at negotiating with someone

Here is how you can negotiate with respect and find consensus during a debate.

1. Research the topic first

When you research the topic, you’ll be more prepared to explain your point of view.

But researching the topic will also help you understand the other person’s point of view.

2. Try to see from every angle

You see things one way. But the other person comes from another perspective.

Try to see from this perspective. You’ll consider facts and opinions you may not think about otherwise.

3. Stay calm during the conversation

If you get emotional, take a deep breath and count to ten.

When you let your emotions speak, you won’t make points that are as rational.

Likewise, pay attention to the other person. If you see they are getting upset, offer to take a break.

4. Be aware of your biases

Most people have biases about other people. This could be about their race, gender, life choices, sexuality, or more.

Here’s an example. Research found that hiring managers who have a racial bias will overestimate the number of offers or counter offers that a black job seeker will make for their salary. They believe these job seekers are arguing more than they really are.

Instead of pretending you don’t have biases, acknowledge them.

You’ll be more aware, and you can take actions to counteract those biases.

5. Avoid ad hominem attacks

Using ad hominem attacks means attacking the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. Focus on the issue at the heart of the discussion, not someone’s personality.

You can bring up arguments against an issue. But avoid attacking the other person directly. 

Don’t point fingers or blame the other person. This will not help them see your point of view.

6. Be clear with what you want

Beating around the bush won’t help you with a negotiation.

Be upfront, but calm and non-confrontational. Speak your mind clearly. If you feel the other person isn’t speaking clearly, ask them to clarify what they really want. 

It’s important to know what’s on the table for negotiation. Otherwise, both parties won’t know what they’re negotiating about. 

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Finding common ground will improve your relationships

You don’t have to agree with everyone. But finding common ground makes you more agreeable. 

Seeking common ground is good exercise for developing your most human capabilities, too. Looking for common ground helps you practice empathy, imagination, and maybe even creativity. It requires listening and setting intentions. It also helps you stay open to possibility and see the world in a more forgiving light.  

You can build stronger relationships and learn a lot from others. Plus, learning how to find common ground can help you negotiate more effectively.

Becoming a better negotiator and learning how to find common ground are just a few of the skills you might develop when you work with a BetterUp Coach.

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Published August 25, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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