By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
When I was still a graduate student, I remember the Reverend Jesse Jackson delivering the 1988 Democratic Convention address in Atlanta: his famous "Common Ground" speech. In that wide-ranging address, he tied together diverse issues -- expansion of the party, the arms race, voting rights, health care, student loans -- and punctuated each with a chorus: common ground. He bound them together using a masterful analogy:
America is not a blanket woven from one thread, one color, one cloth. When I was a child growing up in Greenville, South Carolina and grandmamma could not afford a blanket, she didn't complain and we did not freeze. Instead she took pieces of old cloth -- patches, wool, silk, gabardine, crockersack -- only patches, barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with. But they didn't stay that way very long. With sturdy hands and a strong cord, she sewed them together into a quilt, a thing of beauty and power and culture. Now, Democrats, we must build such a quilt.
Today, it might strike us as a bit of overworked rhetoric, but the experience at the time was pretty electrifying. As Jackson addressed each issue and group, he acknowledged legitimate interests then added, "...but your patch is not big enough." Addressing a deeply divided party, Jackson aimed to stitch them together into one cohesive whole.
Of course, this appeal to unity is a common persuasive strategy, and I've written before about the perspective on human communication that positions these common ground appeals as central to the ways that we influence and are influenced by others. An interesting new study demonstrates this effect. A group of Australian researchers (Greenaway et al., 2015) found that messages were more credible and more effective when they came from perceived in-group members. That part isn't so surprising. Then, however, in a second experiment, they showed that merely reminding the participants of what the in-group and out-group members shared in common had the effect of not just mitigating, but erasing this in-group advantage. In other words, common ground not only works, but its effects can be harnessed just by reframing and emphasizing. The results are important for lawyers and other practical persuaders. In this post, I'll cover this interesting study and also share a few key phrases and themes lawyers can use to build common ground in court.