Enabling Healthy Conversations

August, 2021

The pandemic brought unforeseen stress that disrupted people’s social lives and connections. Global dependency on virtual “togetherness” during isolation had its lights and shadows. In the shadows, it exposed a highly polarized society that deepened people’s frustrations. But in the light, Open Book ideals emerge as people seek relief from societal division in acts of emotional openness, kindness, and empathy. And people are discussing things more openly than ever. In fact, in May, 94% of US adults told us, “Open and honest dialogue is the only way to resolve conflict” – a 3% statistically significant lift from June 2020.* With an appetite to combat tensions, people are enabling healthy conversations through vulnerable storytelling, respectful listening, and creating safe spaces for discussion.

Eighteen months of social distancing and isolation have left people rusty in conversation. In July, to repair social atrophy, world-renowned psychotherapist, podcast host, and author Esther Perel concocted Where Should We Begin – A Game of Stories to elicit meaningful storytelling with friends, colleagues, and partners. The game combines Prompt Cards that set the mood or tone for a story (e.g., “Share something risky”) with Story Cards that inspire the memories to share (e.g., “The worst date I’ve ever been on”). The overall experience encourages deeper self-discovery and empathetic reconnection with others, helping people bond over relatable moments that bring comfort in these unsettling times. The game quickly sold out within the first month and is now available for pre-order for delivery in September.

While people revisit conversational skills with others IRL, highly polarized and politically tense online discussions are also getting treatment. Launched in 2021 to combat online polarization, invite-only debating app Polemix welcomes users to be open-minded and listen to differing viewpoints of an issue. The app explores debatable questions spanning a range of topics like, “Does Instagram objectify women?” and “Is physician-assisted suicide unethical?” POVs in support (deemed a “Hell Yes”) and against (deemed a “Hell No”) are posted by “Leaders” who are recruited by the app as outside experts on the topic via their career or accreditations. Viewers are served four half-minute informed video perspectives (two “Hell Yes” and two “Hell No”) on a topic. After watching, they get to vote if the video convinced them or if they “Respect But Disagree,” helping the algorithm prioritize which videos get fed into the primary four arguments for the topic. The app currently has 2,500 users and thousands more on the waitlist, according to the CEO Ian Sielecki. Polemix plans to expand their roster of “Leaders” to courageously kickstart more healthy debate in the months to come.

Despite social media’s “filter-perfect” pressures, people are sharing their personal journeys to inspire vulnerable discussion. TikToker Shane Whalley has amassed 3.2 million followers by sharing moments of his journey of self-love and weight loss. One video, which garnered 2.9 million views, explores his willingness to enjoy pool time with friends despite still feeling self-conscious. Fans are inspired to share their own journeys, too. The comment section of his videos overflow with empathetic dialogue and collective support. One user shared, “I can relate so much, I just started my weight loss in spring and this summer was the first time in a long time I went swimming with friends. I’m so proud of us.” Another said, “Hun, so much respect. I am on this journey too – down 34 lbs. since April, 71 more to go.” Shane’s continued openness with the TikTok community helps normalize and celebrate the ins and outs of a transformative self-love journey.

A brand can promote healthy dialogue, too. A fitness brand can host a “Together Talks” virtual story telling event on Clubhouse to help diffuse growing anxiety with Delta’s surge. Invite the public to courageously share a story that celebrates a moment of vulnerability that “strengthened” them mentally or physically. Leave space for discussion and empathetic connection. Then have people vote on their most relatable or inspiring story to win one year of free membership. Grant all other participants discounts on classes as a thanks for their openness. Spread awareness across listening platforms like podcasts and streaming, as well as social media to reach an audience in search of community, learning, and self-development.

Source: *Horizon Media, Finger on the Pulse. Survey fielded 4/27/21-5/4/21, n=857

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