Tips for finding common ground – how music connected my son and me

There’s not much that my 13-year-old son and I agree on at the moment. Boundaries, chores, the ideal amount of time to spend in front of a computer screen, how he should treat his little sister – just to name a few.

But there’s one thing that we do agree on – and that’s music. When we’re listening to music, we find that for once, we are on the same page.

On Monday when we were in the car, we spent a passionate ten minutes (probably the longest and most uplifting conversation we’ve had in a while) discussing the merits of the unusual use of a beat in a song and what the lyrics were REALLY about.

In short, we bonded over a rare moment of agreement.

Finding common ground is not only extremely important in parenting, it’s also pretty useful in a professional setting too. If you are in a challenging, yet pivotal, relationship at work, it can be hugely valuable to find common ground.

Maybe it’s a direct report you just don’t get.
A peer who pisses you off.
A customer who leaves you gritting your teeth and rolling your eyes every time you face an interaction with them.
A boss who – just like me and my son – you don’t share the same perspective on pretty much anything.

It might seem like there are way more differences than similarities between the two of you. And that is causing all manner of headaches when it comes to communicating and working together effectively.

I bet it’s taking up way too much of your headspace. So here are three tips to find common ground:

1. Seek out what you both want and value. While the two of you may not agree on many things, there will be some common ground. Seek to understand what motivates you both. Focus on possibility, rather than deficit.
2. Ask them open questions and listen to their answers. Listening rather than talking shows that you are open to learning and understanding what makes someone tick and where they’re coming from. This goes a long way to building mutual respect.
3. Honour the differences between you and the other person. This is pivotal. No one is the same. Everyone has come from different backgrounds and has had different experiences. Try to understand and appreciate them.

The relationship I have with my son is constantly evolving, as we try to discover common ground. I want to be on the same page as him more often, and to do this I’m learning that I need to see him and his perspective with curiosity, rather than my usual default ‘mum’ manner of worry and frustration.

So, make like me and my son. Find common ground, no matter how minuscule. If you focus on what you both want or value and look for the possibility, you too can change your mindset from frustration to curiosity.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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