Communicating with others who don’t share our point of view can be challenging at best and volatile at worst. Fortunately there are some simple conversation guidelines that can help you navigate those uncomfortable and controversial conversations.
Having open-minded conversations with people who have different perspectives is critical skill for success. We need this skill more than ever after the division of the last election.
“I know why he voted for the opponent. He is prejudiced.”
“I can’t even speak to colleagues and family members anymore given their point of view. It’s maddening!”
It’s been quite a polarizing election season with a lot of accusations and negative name-calling. Political correctness and civility have been thrown out the window. People tell me how hard it is to speak to colleagues, neighbors and family members who advocated for a different political candidate. How can we be so polarized and see the world so differently?
It is human nature to be influenced by our experiences and background. None of us can see the full picture. We are likely to take one or two issues and choose to support or not support a candidate. Then we are sure others are wrong who do not agree. How can someone not be pro-life or pro-choice when it is so clear to us? It can be exasperating and we become emotional and clamp down even stronger on our view and discount others with differing views.
I see the same polarization in organizations. People from the regions don’t understand or relate to those in headquarters and vice verse. There is polarization across function (doctors vs. nurses, lawyers vs. marketers) and across locations, ethnicity and gender.
What can you do to relate more effectively?
Recognize that it is human nature to make judgments based on limited data; it’s common to jump to conclusions and think we are right. In a highly emotional state, when our brain’s amygdala system is activated, we have limited capacity to see the larger picture.
Make it your goal to “assume positive intent.” Assume that most people are doing the best they can based on what they are noticing; they are not consciously plotting how to hurt or upset you.
Trust that with an open mindset and a few conversation skills that you can attain common ground. When you shift to being open, you activate a different part of your brain that can see more possibilities. I liken it to being in an oasis. Recall a time in nature or a positive interaction with a loved one to shift to this state.
Make it your goal to find common ground. You might even say, “I know we both care about our country or business or neighborhood thriving.” In fact, we are generally emotional when we really care about succeeding.
Focus on trying to listen and understand the other person’s perspective. (If you are worried that they will not care about your view, you could tell them you want to first hear their view and would like them to also hear your view.) When you listen, focus on giving empathy—acknowledge their feelings. You could say, “ I see that you are worried about the future of the country.” Your goal is to hear their concerns and gain insight. Empathy does not mean that you agree.
When you share your view, make sure you breathe and express your feelings beginning sentences with “I” rather than accusatory “you” statements. Recognize that there are things you don’t see. And reiterate your goal of understanding one another rather than convincing each other. The process of understanding should help you to appreciate that you are each doing your best based on what you see and experience. Don’t make the other person wrong.
Recognize that it is likely to take a number of listening sessions to find common ground on some issues. It may be easier to reassert the common ground after a bit of space from a polarizing election. After all, we will continue to live together and need to make society work together. There is common ground.
Often when we understand one another new solutions and possible actions emerge. If so, agree on what you will each do going forward. Agree on a time to follow up and continue the conversation.
For ongoing and group conversations you can share some ground rules. For example, you can agree to:
– Listen to one another without interruption
– Assume positive intent
– Focus on understanding different points of view
– Be empathetic
– Agree to call for and take a time out when feeling heated
– Refrain from name calling and
– Call in a facilitator, if needed
Of course, sometimes people agree to not talk about difficult subjects. Sometimes that is useful. However, we fail to move forward in creating understanding, insight and possible solutions.
I wish you the best as we work to create greater understanding across our differences. I encourage you to remain open to learning and to remain optimistic that amidst our various perspectives, we can find new solutions that work for all.
– Ann Van Eron, Ph.D., MCC is principal of Potentials, a global coaching and organization development consulting firm with experience coaching leaders and teams all over the world. She is the author of OASIS Conversations: Leading with an Open Mindset to Maximize Potential (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Learn more about Ann and her work at www.OASISConversations.com and www.Potentials.com.
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