Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

by: Joel Christie

Admit it: sometimes you want to change other peoples minds. Sure, we love our slogans like "to each their own," but take a quick glance at Facebook or any number of talk shows and you'll notice people busy at work trying to change one another's minds. Hey, it's okay. We're kind of wired this way. Unfortunately, I think the way we go about it is often much more derisive than we intend.

Take any topic people disagree and also care about. That certainly includes politics, social issues, religious issues, etc., but you can find plenty of fodder in the supposedly mundane as well. Ever see a Facebook post like: "The new Jurassic Park was epic!!!" followed by someone quickly slinging a ninja star into the mix: "That movie was so dumb it made me wish the dinosaurs were real so that one of them would kill me and put me out of my misery. How could anyone like something so stupid? And P.S., it's called Jurassic World now, not Jurassic Park." And then a small internet war erupts.

What's happening here? It's more than just the need to have an opinion validated. It's the need for the other person to change their view so that it better fits with my own. Maybe this person feels uncomfortable with diverging views, thinks he or she know better than the other, or believes he or she is just trying to help. Or, perhaps this person just wants to conquer whomever he or she happens to disagree with because it feels good to be "right." But wouldn't it be cool if we were all a little better at talking to each other, and as a culture began to gain confidence that we could disagree and still like each other? Sure, some people are great at this, but I suspect many feel their choices are limited to locking horns or avoiding a heated discussion completely. But here are a few things I think can help people engage in disagreement with much greater potential for a fruitful outcome:

1.) Learn to be okay with disagreement. We say things like, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion," but in reality, divergent opinions tend to make us uncomfortable, producing anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and fear, which we often want to get rid of as quickly as possible. We think "Why don't they just admit that I'm right?? Then there wouldn't be a problem!" Yet most of us would acknowledge that firing insults or "logic" missiles at someone rarely changes their mind. More likely they fire back or disengage. So why do we do this?

2.) Become more aware of your own emotions. As we pause to mindfully notice our emotions, we become increasingly capable of deciding how we truly want to respond, rather than simply reacting out of our lower/reptile brain. The reptile brain handles the important job of protecting us from threats, but can also cut us off from empathy and a desire to connect with the other person. As you can imagine, this is even more problematic if both people are operating out of the reptile brain, confirming back and forth to each other, "You're a threat!" and "Yes I am and so are you!" However, by noticing what is happening within us, we can increase our ability to keep our upper brain regions involved as well, particularly as we make this a mental practice we strive to do over and over.

3.) Develop genuine curiosity for the other person's perspective. This doesn't mean you have to end up agreeing with him/her, but few things shut communication down faster than when it is obvious we don't care what the other person has to say. How do we demonstrate curiosity? Ask genuine questions, not "land mine" questions meant to reveal the other person's ignorance or stupidity. And then listen.

4.) Focus on your own experience rather than trying to prove all the reasons the other person is wrong/ignorant/stupid/etc. "I really thought Jurassic World was fun. It made me laugh several times, and had a bunch of cool looking dinosaurs eating people." In couples counseling, we often tell people to use more "I" statements, and I think a similar principle certainly applies here. Consider the difference between "I am feeling upset about this," vs. "You are really pissing me off."

5.) Admit that you're not necessarily open-minded on every topic. A good way to gage whether I am open-minded on a particular issue is to ask, "What might begin to alter my beliefs/ perceptions about this issue?" If the answer is, "Basically nothing," then this probably isn't one of the issues you feel particularly open-minded about. And that can be okay of course! But it may make a discussion with someone who holds a differing view quite frustrating. And if neither person is open to changing their views on the issue at this time, it's worth asking "What am I hoping will happen as a result of this exchange?"

6.) Revisit the question of, "Why is this issue important to me? What would it mean if my views began to change?" That doesn't mean you have to change, it means you are creating an opportunity to better understand yourself and your own beliefs. Include in these questions, "What don't I understand very well about this part of my beliefs?" And then feel free to explore, even conversing with people you may completely disagree with. Who knows, maybe you'll both discover something new and valuable.

Thoughts From Relationship Land 2
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Comments 5

Guest - Cindy on Sunday, 02 August 2015 00:38

Good advice! Well written!

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Good advice! Well written!
Guest - Natalie on Monday, 03 August 2015 16:36

Great post!

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Great post!
Guest - Lisa on Monday, 03 August 2015 23:21

Very good advice... what happens when you do #3 and ask questions kindly out of genuine curiosity and still get blasted or accused of a behavior that you weren't exhibiting? People are so sensitive these days that some cannot even tolerate someone asking a question...

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Very good advice... what happens when you do #3 and ask questions kindly out of genuine curiosity and still get blasted or accused of a behavior that you weren't exhibiting? People are so sensitive these days that some cannot even tolerate someone asking a question...
Guest - Joel on Tuesday, 18 August 2015 21:26

Great point Lisa. You're definitely right that none of these things guarantees a positive exchange between two people. On the other hand, the more someone is able to remain self secure while exuding these kinds of qualities, the more often I think they're going to experience positive interactions.

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Great point Lisa. You're definitely right that none of these things guarantees a positive exchange between two people. On the other hand, the more someone is able to remain self secure while exuding these kinds of qualities, the more often I think they're going to experience positive interactions.
Guest - Terri Cullins on Monday, 17 August 2015 01:21

Great article Joel! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

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Great article Joel! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

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