Apr 10, 2017

Breaking through Gridlock

Yale and MIT Sloan scholars identify actionable steps toward constructive conversations in a polarized world


Think about the last time you tried to talk with someone about political, social, or environmental issues who didn’t already agree with you. How well did it go?

All too often, well-meaning attempts to effect change get stuck in the noisy traffic jam of competing ideas, priorities, and ideologies. Indeed, gridlock is holding the United States and other countries across the globe hostage, illustrating on a large scale how rare it is for individuals to break through and produce results for oneself, one’s organization, or our society as a whole.

In Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World, (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; On-sale date: May 22, 2017), authors Jason Jay and Gabriel Grant share clear-cut and actionable techniques for having these hard conversations. The well-tested methods advocated in this book can be applied to any conversation where change is needed.

Breaking Through Gridlock began as a reflection on the authors’ own experiences and experimentation. In their roles as student activists, organizational consultants, and university lecturers, they became acutely aware of missed opportunities for productive engagement, and the resulting collateral damage among families and colleagues. But they learned how to turn these situations around into important successes.

The methodology shared in Breaking Through Gridlock is based on the authors’ research at MIT and Yale (supported in part by a grant from the Yale Center for Business and the Environment), and their direct experience working with thousands of social and environmental change leaders. It has been refined through its use in courses at a number of universities such as the University of Michigan and Cornell by colleagues who have demonstrated that the techniques are teachable and replicable. Over the years, the authors have been invited to work inside organizations to provide training for corporate teams and social responsibility and sustainability professionals, including vice-presidents and directors from more than 150 major brands.

With proven exercises and rich examples, this interactive ‘field guide’ will walk readers through a process of transforming paralysis and effecting positive change. A series of exercises that thread through the chapters will challenge readers’ notions of advocacy, leadership, and authenticity.

The journey of exercises designed to help readers go beyond “preaching to the choir” includes:

Know What You Bring: How to identify the hidden baggage that follows you into conversations, whether or not it even belongs to you.

Locate the Bait: There's a compelling reason things stay stuck…and it's not what you think. Learn how to identify what you gain when conversations lose.

Dare to Share: How to get beyond parroting a collection of other people's talking points by articulating the deepest authentic expression of what you care about. From this foundation, your words will flow naturally as your own self-expression.

Start Talking: Use the five elements of a wholehearted apology to strengthen your relationships and your power while reviving conversations in your life that have historically been stuck.

Embrace the Tension: Rather than shadowing or resisting our differences, learn how to leverage competing objectives as a source of creativity and innovation.

Widen the Circle: Scale up what you learn at the interpersonal level to increase the effectiveness of your peers and your movement.

From environmental activism to civil rights to the desire to build more positive relationships with family, colleagues and friends, Breaking Through Gridlock will build bridges across differences and move readers from talk to action.


About the Authors

Jason Jay is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he directs its Sustainability Initiative. He holds a PhD in management from MIT Sloan, a master’s in education from Harvard University, and a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education from Harvard.

Gabriel Grant is the CEO of Human Partners, cofounder of the Byron Fellowship Educational Foundation, and a doctoral candidate at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He holds a master’s in leadership and sustainability from Yale and a master’s in ecological systems engineering and a bachelor’s in physics from Purdue.