We've been seeing a lot of James Carville lately. We watched him doing his TV commentary during the Democratic National Convention coverage last night, and last week we saw him with his wife, Mary Matalin, at a Phoenix Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Their mastery of democrat/republican political spin is unparalleled, and watching them together is something to behold. (In my estimation, Matalin is a little better at it than her husband. I didn’t buy her several reassurances that she could be “objective” as she extolled John McCain and bashed Barak Obama. But maybe that is just my bias.)

Typically we would consider “spinning” a manipulative conversational technique, because it is a way of framing information to get someone to buy into your point of view without revealing that intention. However, as spin is a large part of how Carville and Matalin make a living, I suppose you could characterize their “conversation” as authentic because you know up front that their intention is to spin to influence. It’s in their job description.

Everybody talks about what an odd couple they make, but they’ve been married 15 years so they must be doing something right. Near the end of his talk, Carville revealed one of their secrets by saying he would rather be married to someone who is a thinker and passionate about her point of view than to someone who doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on in the world or have an opinion. I think that is completely cool. And I admire their ability to make it work, because most of the political conversations I have with people on the other side of the aisle typically result in tense silence or verbal assault. My contribution to the difficulty is that I often let passion overwhelm me to the point that I am determined to convince rather than connect. It becomes about winning the point rather than seeking understanding and to be understood. But I am working on changing that, and I'd love to see our society start reaping all the benefits of civil, authentic conversations that help expand our thinking and enhance our decision-making.

We are in the early stages of a project with a few other Berrett-Koehler authors to encourage people to have these conversations and give them some useful conversational skills to make them productive. We'll keep you posted as the project progresses -- we hope to have something tangible ready before the November election.

In the meantime, if you're interested in our suggestions on how to do this, check out this document.