One mistake we often make in intergroup relations is that we reach out to a potential target group, such as an African-American organization we’ve never worked with, and immediately try to form a joint agenda. We hastily push our own interests on the other group and don’t take the time to know their agenda or worldview or complexities. We propose marriage on the first date.
This is misguided for three reasons: First, we can come off as presumptuous to our potential partners, who might wonder why we come on so strong. Second, we are more likely to insult the other group because we misunderstand their organization. And third, we can become knee-deep in an unproductive or dysfunctional relationship because we didn’t take the time to get to know our desired partner.
There is another way. We can take a deep dive, and ask the new African-American organization if we can meet with them to learn more about their group. We can be intentional about not bringing up our own interests or making any plans in the early meetings. We can simply say, “we are interested in engaging with other groups but first want to get to know them and understand their agenda.”
We can make a list of questions that we’d like to ask them. And once we’ve had a series of conversations, we can compare notes and make a more informed decision about proposing a joint endeavor.
Because the deep dive requires more listening and less talking, it will make us far better partners once both parties are ready to engage.