55 minutes | Mar 13, 2023
Ep 99: Manu Meel | Battling political apathy through building conversational bridges
The polarized nature of American politics, the zero-sum nature of seemingly every issue, the ways our leaders act and create policy not because they stand for something, but because they want to oppose the other side … it’s all just … exhausting. Many Americans are in what's called "the exhausted majority," and this exhaustion can quickly turn to political apathy if the power of a collective voice is not realized. My guest this week is Manu Meel, CEO of BridgeUSA, a youth-led nonprofit that creates spaces on high school and college campuses for open discussion between students about political issues. Manu and some friends started what would eventually become BridgeUSA when he was a student at UC Berkeley, and the movement has grown to span the country on more than 50 college campuses. As you’ll hear, Manu’s journey as the son of Indian immigrants could have easily taken a turn towards political apathy, but he made the conscious decision to go in a different direction. That’s because Manu believes that humans like talking to each other in constructive spaces, and if that’s true, then he wants the exhausted majority to know that we are "never out of the fight." Learn more about BridgeUSA's work at https://www.bridgeusa.org/, and connect with Manu on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ManuMeel_.
40 minutes | Feb 27, 2023
Ep 98: How to communicatively hold space for someone else
I'm switching things up in this episode, as this time, it's my turn to be interviewed. This is an interview I did with Kwame Christian on his Negotiate Anything podcast in late 2022. In this conversation, Kwame and I discuss how to communicatively hold space for someone, the psychology of change, and what it means to ask curious questions. You can listen to Kwame's podcast at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/negotiate-anything/id1101679010 You can listen to Kwame's appearance on The Follow-Up Question at https://michaelashford.com/episodes/ep-94-kwame-christian-to-have-difficult-conversations-about-race-we-must-practice-the-skills-to-do-so Learn more about my communications and speaking coaching at https://michaelashford.com/communicate-well-coaching
61 minutes | Feb 13, 2023
Ep 97: Jeff Schoep | How does a person change, and is change real?
Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the psychology of change. There came a point in late 2022 when I started to notice that many of the conversations I’ve had here on the show have carried with them an undertone of change. I’ve gone back and listened to many of the interviews, and change pops up quite frequently. In fact, based on what I’ve gathered, one of the chapters of the book I’m currently writing asks the question: Do you believe people can change? It is such a fun question because everyone I’ve ever asked that question of has answered me with an optimistic yes. However, what I’ve noticed is that we often don’t act this way. We act as if people cannot change on their own, and so we try to force change to happen. And we all know how that goes, right? I mean, I know I love being forced to change, don’t you? But if we believe people can change, and we acknowledge true change can’t be forced, then how and why does it happen? This is what I wanted to explore with Jeff Schoep. Jeff was my guest here on the show back in episode 57, and you might recall that Jeff is the former leader of the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States, the National Socialist Movement. Now, Jeff has left that world and ideology behind, and instead, he works to deradicalize others. Jeff is someone who has gone through a radical change, so who better to walk through the psychology of change with than Jeff? Who better to understand what brings about change and why it's so hard, even when the thing we are clinging to is, to so many of us, so obviously wrong? Check out Jeff's work at https://beyondbarriersusa.org/.
53 minutes | Jan 30, 2023
Ep 96: Elizabeth Doll | Shouting louder isn't the answer to communicating across divides
One of my favorite discoveries over the course of hosting this podcast is the concept that in order to communicate across divides and begin to better understand each other, we must learn to adopt the language of those we disagree with and speak in their terms. Many guests here on the show have touched on this point, but this week’s guest exemplifies this approach more than perhaps anyone else I’ve come across. Elizabeth Doll is the Director of Braver Politics at Braver Angels. Elizabeth is a Conservative in the Democrat stronghold area of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and she has been active in politics since her teenage years when she began volunteering on political campaigns. But rather than act like prey backed into a corner by a predator, if I may use that analogy, Elizabeth engages. She seeks out answers to uncomfortable questions. She communicates rather than shouts. And it works. In this conversation, Elizabeth offers up the strongest case I’ve heard yet for why using the language of those you disagree with, despite how discomforting it might feel, is the best way to open dialogue, uncover common ground, and ultimately, create ways to solve issues together. Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter at https://twitter.com/doll_elizabeth and check out Braver Angels at https://braverangels.org/.
57 minutes | Jan 16, 2023
Ep 95: Karen Hardwick | Doing the work of self-reflection before it becomes damage control
The first episode of 2023 my conversation with Karen Joy Hardwick. Karen recently released a new book, The Connected Leader: 7 Strategies to Empower Your True Self and Inspire Others. And while it is a leadership book aimed particularly at business leaders, as I read The Connected Leader, I found that so much of the uplift Karen advocates for can be extended into our conversations outside of our work lives — whether you consider yourself a leader or not. Karen and I have a deeply meaningful conversation about the role ego plays in our relationships with ourselves and with others, a way to think about listening to ourselves and to others that doesn’t feel so gimmicky, and her belief that we must shed the desire to want to “save” someone else when we disagree with who they are or what they believe. You can learn more about Karen's work at https://karenjhardwick.com/ and you can connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenjhardwickinc/.
51 minutes | Dec 12, 2022
Ep 94: Kwame Christian | To have difficult conversations about race we must practice the skills to do so
We all — myself included — have this ineffective little habit of wanting to be better at something and desiring to show up differently in the world and talking about how we can be better, yet we struggle to practice the skills necessary for us to do so. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in conversations about race. And to be more pointed with it — conversations about race in the workplace. The truth is, if we never learn and then practice the skills that it takes to show up in a more effective way when situations involving race and racism and inequality rear their ugly heads at work (or anyplace for that matter), we default to our hardwiring — we get defensive, we get angry, we get consumed by winning the battle rather than working through the conflict. Thankfully, people like Kwame Christian exist. Kwame is the founder and CEO of the American Negotiation Institute, he hosts the Negotiate Anything podcast, and he’s the author of a new book called How To Have Difficult Conversations about Race — Practical Tools for Necessary Change in the Workplace and Beyond. Kwame believes self-advocacy is a skill, not a talent. Thus, it can be taught. We can get better at having these difficult conversations, whether they’re about race or any other topic, when we put ourselves in the best position for success by learning and practicing the skills Kwame outlines in this conversation and in his book. Check out the American Negotiation Institute's resources at https://www.americannegotiationinstitute.com/guide, listen to the Negotiate Anything podcast at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/negotiate-anything/id1101679010, and connect with Kwame on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kwamechristian/.
59 minutes | Nov 28, 2022
Ep 93: Ari Wallach | Leaning into relational tension to create an examined desired future
This week’s guest lays out plainly the role our emotions play in how we communicate with each other across differences and divides. Ari Wallach calls this consideration of our emotions as being full-spectrum human beings who can go forward, backward, and inward in our thoughts, and when examining a path forward through conflicts and how we envision our future as a society and as people, we must pay heed to the shared humanity that exists within our emotions. Ari is a futurist, the founder and executive director of Longpath Labs, and the author of the book Longpath: Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs, an antidote for short-termism. In Longpath, which is a state of mind that recognizes how our decisions today affect the lives of generations after us, Ari argues that we are at a critical juncture in our time as humans where examining our desired future as a species requires asking some uncomfortable questions, empathizing with generations past, present, and future, and leaning into relational tensions. Ari and I discuss the nature of the time we’re living in, which Ari relates to the turbulent intertidal zone of the ocean, and how your role and my role is not to convince each other to think the same, but to explore commonalities that exist and build upon them. Check out Ari's work at https://www.longpath.org/ and connect with Ari on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ariw.
53 minutes | Nov 14, 2022
Ep 92: Dr. Corey Yeager | Inviting others into the playground of conversation
My guest on this episode equates conversation to being on a playground, where there is humor, joy, curiosity, exploration, and yes, some arguments and hurt feelings. And feeling bold enough to invite others onto our own personal playgrounds requires us to first uncover some things about ourselves and how we wish to interact with those around us. You’re about to hear my conversation with Dr. Corey Yeager, a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as the psychotherapist for the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons. Doc recently released a new book called “How Am I Doing? 40 conversations to have with yourself” As you’ll hear Doc describe in this conversation, before we can begin to understand others and communicate effectively with others around us — the other people on the playground — we have to first have a level of awareness about ourselves that unfortunately, very few of us pour much effort into achieving. And that’s why Doc wrote his book. To give you a starting point to learn how to ask yourself the questions that will inform your ability to interact appropriately with those around you. Check out Doc's work at https://doctorcoreyyeager.com/, connect with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/drcoreyyeager, and buy his book at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1400236762.
54 minutes | Oct 31, 2022
Ep 91: Martin Carcasson | Solving our most wicked problems together at the local level
In this episode, I’m bringing the political field of vision down to the local level, where honestly, I believe we’re more likely to enact significant change. Because at the local level, we have more ability to effect said change. There’s more within our control. We’re closer to the problems, and we're closer to the solutions. This mentality is at the heart of what my guest on this episode does for a living. Martin Carcasson started the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, where, among many things, he helps train students to facilitate and run public meetings. As you’ll hear Martin explain, democracy is hard. Not impossible, but incredibly difficult, especially when we focus on issues that take us further away from our communities and the people around us. The idea of an engaged citizen — one that does their research, studies the issues at hand, and then votes based on a collection of this data — is unfortunately outdated at best, and entirely unrealistic, Martin says. Instead, Martin advocates for us to aspire to something he calls the “wise collaborator,” a mindset that plays out at the local level where real people can affect real change by coming together not as partisan enemies, but as neighborly collaborators. At a time where there are so many conflict entrepreneurs making money off our tendency to tribalize at the national level, Martin hopes to push back against these democracy undermining actors by getting people to understand that we have shared problems, and that it is these problems that are wicked, not the people. Check out the Center for Public Deliberation at https://cpd.colostate.edu/, and connect with Martin at https://twitter.com/mcarcasson.
58 minutes | Oct 17, 2022
Ep 90: Eli Zupnick | Can more political parties solve our polarization problems?
It’s nearly impossible to hear the word polarization and not immediately think of nasty political feuds. And many point to the fact that we even have political parties as the source of much of our division. So imagine my surprise when in the course of researching my guest’s background for this episode, the organization he is a part of actually takes the stance that polarization isn’t always a bad thing. My guest on this episode is Eli Zupnick. Eli is the co-founder of Fix Our House (https://www.fixourhouse.org/), an organization with a primary focus of getting proportional representation installed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Eli’s colleague and co-founder, Lee Drutman, wrote a book called Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop. In this book, Lee explains that the United States has always had polarized political parties; however, what most don’t realize is that up until the last few decades, the U.S. had actually operated within a hidden four-party system rather than the Republican-Democrat binary we see and experience today. The parties were still polarized, they just had to find ways to work together more effectively. It’s a lot to get into, but this is what Eli and Lee and Fix Our House want us to get back to … a multiparty democracy where more cooperation takes place because no party owns a dominating majority, and where more people feel represented by their government. To learn more about Michael Ashford, visit https://michaelashford.com/
58 minutes | Oct 3, 2022
Ep 89: Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane | Dreaming big, and how life circumstances affect our ability to do so
Take a moment and think about the hopes and dreams you have for your life. Beyond your goals for your career or your relationships. Not the planned out path that you might already be working on. I’m talking about the irrational, blissful, pie-in-the-sky dreams that perhaps captured your attention back when you were younger and the world hadn’t caught up with your imagination yet. Now, think about how your life has shaped the dreams you dream. And perhaps more importantly for today’s conversation here on the show, how might your dreams be different had you grown up in different circumstances? My guests this week here on the show are Janet Ruane and Karen Cerulo, each university professors and co-authors of the book Dreams of a Lifetime, how who we are shapes how we imagine our future. You see, while we might intuitively know and believe that our dreams are shaped by the culture and situations we happen to inhabit, Janet and Karen actually have the research and the data to prove it to be true. As Janet and Karen write in their book “Dreams represent the starting point of our perception of 'fit.' Where do we want to belong?” And the question must be asked, if we each have different starting points, what effect does this have on our dreams, and what’s more, our ability to even dream itself. You can find Dreams of a Lifetime at https://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Lifetime-Shapes-Imagine-Future/dp/0691229090/. To learn more about my Communications Coaching, go to https://michaelashford.com/communicate-well-coaching.
58 minutes | Sep 18, 2022
Ep 88: Jack Buckby | The dangers in assigning labels and calling people names that are untrue
One of the things that drives me crazy about modern society and culture is our tendency to call people names and assign them labels to avoid leaning into the uncomfortable conversations that exist when we disagree. These names and labels — which are often untrue — carry with them enormous power to shut down productive conversation about important issues and they have the power to crush lives. My guest this week, Jack Buckby, is all too familiar with this reality. A former member of a far-right extremist group, the British National Party, Jack has a perspective of the damage that can be done with names and labels are thrown about in bad faith and attributed to anyone with whom one disagrees. Though he's no longer in a far-right group, Jack is still a conservative in many ways, and he's trying to get others to realize the harm labels and names can do to people who more often than not simply need an outlet to voice their concerns and be heard. Get a copy of Jack's book at https://www.amazon.com/Monster-Their-Own-Making-Politicians/dp/1642934240/ref=sr_1_1 and follow Jack on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jackbuckby.
55 minutes | Sep 5, 2022
Ep 87: Dan Vallone | To build trust you must create belonging
This episode explores the nuance of trust, and how we create more of it. My guest is Dan Vallone, the Director of More in Common USA. After spending 6 years as an active duty Army infantry officer, which included a tour in Afghanistan, Dan got into the work of education policy and innovation, and eventually began to explore the common factors that exist in broken societies — alienation, isolation, polarization, distrust. As you’ll hear in our conversation, Dan views trust as a nebulous and ever-changing thing brought on by influences that exist all around us. Trust is built through communication and experiences with others, and is rarely ever linear in nature. Creating more trust across our divides as a society requires some messy, murky, and at times, seemingly morally satisfying work to get us to the point where we can lift our heads above the field of view of our immediate tribe and see others who exists near and with us who, as Dan explains, more often than not want and value very similar things as you. You can find the studies Dan mentions in this episode at https://www.moreincommon.com/our-work/publications/. Connect with the More in Common USA team on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Moreincommon_. Connect with me at https://www.michaelashford.com.
53 minutes | Aug 22, 2022
Ep 86: Adam Wilkinson | The individual responsibility we each own to deescalate hate
My guest this week believes there’s a lot more good in the world than there is hate, you just have to avoid getting sucked into the hate machine and instead look for the many instances where good occurs in the small things. In this episode, I chat with Adam Wilkinson, or Wilk, for short. He’s a firm believer that light drives out darkness, and when we focus on bringing a little more light into the world, we do something Wilk calls “derate the hate.” We give hate less room to invade. As it were, Wilk shares this message as the host of the Derate the Hate podcast. He wants you and me and everyone to accept that while we cannot always control everything that happens to us and in the world around us, we can control how we respond — even in the moments where we disagree. Check out Wilk's work at https://wilksworld.com/ or https://deratethehate.com/ including episode 86 with Chris Singleton (https://deratethehate.com/2021/12/08/episode-86-forgiveness-is-your-path-forward-love-is-stronger-than-hate-with-chris-singleton/) and episode 105 with your's truly (https://deratethehate.com/2022/04/20/episode-105-building-unity-by-asking-the-follow-up-questions-with-michael-ashford/).
60 minutes | Aug 8, 2022
Ep 85: Dr. Christia Spears Brown | Why children keep getting caught in the crosshairs of confronting bias
My guest this week is Dr. Christia Spears Brown, author of the book "Unraveling Bias: How prejudice has shaped children for generations and why it’s time to break the cycle." Christia explores how biases passed down through generations and through systems have time and time again come to a breaking point with children standing at ground zero of the struggle. In reading Christia's book, I was struck by how often children are the rope in an ideological game of tug of war between warring and sparring adults. Christia writes in her book: "When we start trying to unravel bias, it becomes clear how often children are the collateral damage to adults’ biases and biased policies." In our conversation, Christia and I discuss how vitally important it is that we as adults have real, honest, frank conversations about bias with children so that they are not left to put the clues and pieces of the puzzle together themselves based on observing how their parents and other adults act. You can connect with Christia at https://christiabrown.com/, or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ChristiaBrown.
69 minutes | Jul 25, 2022
Ep 84: Greg Offner | Being more intentional about how you use your voice
What if you lost your voice? What if you lost the ability to communicate with the world in the ways you love? How would your life change? In what ways would your priorities shift? That’s the story this week’s guest brings to the show. Greg Offner lost his voice — literally — in 2015. As a singer, Greg was stripped of the communication outlet that brought him the most joy. He endured more than a dozen surgeries to bring his voice back, and he had to spend two months in total silence to let his vocal cords heal. Greg eventually regained the ability to speak, and now, he’s sharing what the experience revealed to him, how he dealt with the loss, how he recovered in more ways than just vocally, and why he’s trying to get others to embrace disruption for the good it can bring. Check out Greg's work at https://www.gregoryoffner.com/, and connect with him on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/gregoffnerjr/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/gregoryoffnerjr).
59 minutes | Jul 11, 2022
Ep 83: Wayne Francis and John Siebeling | Moving beyond black fists and white knuckles in conversations about God and race
So often, our response to difficult and divisive conversations falls one of two ways — either we avoid the messiness and complexity and withdraw, or, we go in with clenched fists, ready for a fight. But as you’ll hear from my guests this week, there is a third way. John Siebeling and Wayne Francis are two pastors and friends that lead thriving churches in two very different cities who teamed up to give us a perspective of this “third way” in the book they co-authored, God and Race: A guide for moving beyond black fists and white knuckles. John, along with his wife Leslie, founded The Life Church, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee. Wayne founded Authentic Church in New York, and in 2020, Authentic Church merged with The Life Church. And, Wayne is Black, and John is White. In their book and in our conversation today, Wayne and John advocate for open-handed conversation on difficult and nuanced topics, in this case specifically about race, racism, and the Church’s role in the conversation. The third way that Wayne and John and I are asking us to enter into means we must begin to see problems from others perspectives, we must stop seeking perfection over progress, and we must understand that our influence starts with our ears before we ever utter a word. You can find out more about Wayne and John's book at https://godandrace.com, and you can listen to their podcast, Leadership in Black and White, at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/leadership-in-black-and-white/id1529169100.
53 minutes | Jun 27, 2022
Ep 82: Chris Duffy | How 'Tell me more' can be the unlock to deeper conversations
My guest this week is Chris Duffy, a comedian who found his way into hosting one of my favorite podcasts, How to Be a Better Human. Chris details how he came to host the show, which is part of the TED Audio Collective, and all that he has learned in interviewing some pretty amazing human beings. And as Chris is quick to point out, he's not saying he's the better human, he's just "a fool asking a lot of questions." Listen to How to Be a Better Human at https://www.ted.com/podcasts/how-to-be-a-better-human. You can check out Chris' work at https://chrisduffycomedy.com.
65 minutes | Jun 13, 2022
Ep 81: Mónica Guzmán | The perspective-changing power of asking 'What am I missing?'
Mónica Guzmán is on a mission to help us see that questions should not be used as weapons to establish superiority, but rather as tools in our curiosity toolbox. Mónica is the Director of Digital and Storytelling at Braver Angels, a non-profit working to depolarize America, as well as the author of the book "I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times." In this conversation, you'll hear about the many push-pull moments and circumstances of Mónica's life that have led her to seek out more instances when she has the chance to say "I never thought of it that way." And during such deeply divided and polarized times, Mónica believes one of the most critical questions to ask is "What am I missing?" Watch Mónica's remarkable TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSL0zNREHAE Check out Mónica's work, including her book, at https://reclaimcuriosity.com, and connect with her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/moniguzman.
63 minutes | May 30, 2022
Ep 80: Josh Stepakoff | A mass shooting survivor's plea for something to change
At 6 years old, Josh Stepakoff was the victim of a mass shooting. Josh was just 6 years old playing capture the flag at a Jewish summer camp with a white supremacist starting shooting. Josh was shot in the hip and leg. Four others were injured, and one person was killed. For more than 20 years, Josh has worked to overcome the fear and anxiety that his ordeal produced, and he's had to do it time and time again as he's seen hundreds of mass shootings play out without anything substantially changing in our society. No matter where you stand on the issue of gun safety, Josh's voice and perspective are a must-hear. Learn more about Women Against Gun Violence, an organization Josh helps guide as a member of the Board of Directors, at https://wagv.org.