In today’s hyperpolitical atmosphere, where political gridlock seems the norm and speaking derisively of anyone with opposing views is increasingly acceptable, spending an evening with Japanese officials visiting Michigan and other parts of the United States through the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) reminded me again of the value of listening and learning.

Over Lebanese food brought into our Martin Waymire office in downtown Lansing, our Japanese guests asked questions about the presidential election, trade deals, the auto industry and state politics. We asked them about the political parties they represented, China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea and the implications of the emperor wanting to step down.

Everyone was respectful, but no punches were pulled. Current journalists Chad Livengood of The Detroit News, Emily Lawler of MLive and John Lindstrom of Gongwer News Service chimed in along with former journalists Dave Waymire, Mark Hornbeck and me. The interpreters raced to keep up with our questions, and the ones our Japanese guests fired at us. An hour quickly went by, and we were well into another before the conversation drew to a close – reluctantly, since there was still so much to talk about!

Listen. Explain. Discuss. Learn.

The evening was a reminder that, when we sit down with others and talk, there’s a lot we can learn from each other if we take time to listen, ask thoughtful questions, and respect the other side. ACYPL started in 1966, when a group of young Democratic and Republican political leaders wanted to create opportunities for next generation political leaders from around the world to meet each other and share ideas and dreams for the future. The group today sponsors trips abroad for American political leaders and trips to the U.S. for young political leaders from countries around the globe, all with the idea of increasing dialogue and idea-sharing.

Here at Martin Waymire, where our passion is making Michigan a better place, we’re interested in the same thing. We understand that great ideas don’t just come from one part of the political spectrum, and that getting people to work together to solve the challenges facing our state is really the only way to get things done.

Listen. Explain. Discuss. Learn.

Those are actions we take every day at Martin Waymire. And it’s one reason we win for our clients. We like asking a lot of questions through talking with clients and conducting research, and then using what we learn to craft the best possible communications plan. We always explain what our plan will do and how success will be measured. And we refine the plan if circumstances change or we can find a better way to meet our clients’ goals.

Just four little words are what it takes to make a difference – and to make Michigan a better place.