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Talking with People Who Disagree With You

I’m finding myself in more and more conversations with people who have different belief systems, different world views, different experiences from myself. How do you have a conversation with people who disagree with you? The easy thing to do is just drop the topic and back away. I guess that’s better than getting into an argument. But we miss so much! There’s so much we need to learn from one another. So how do we have conversations with people who disagree with us?

Hand-painted sign: I think... therefore I am VEGAN
photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Here’s what I’m learning:

  • No one likes to lose an argument. None of us likes to be made to feel “wrong”. When we are put in this position, we dig in our heels and defend our position even more ferociously. When that happens, there’s no learning going on.

  • Find common ground. Where do we agree? How can we build on that?

  • Seek first to understand. Once we know what we agree on, we can explore what’s different. But first, take a moment to consider why is it we feel threatened when someone disagrees with us? Can I set that aside and simply explore what the other person believes, how they think about things? I’m learning to simply view this as new territory to explore—I don’t have to agree, but I can gain a better understanding of how the person arrived at this line of thinking. It helps me understand the issue at a deeper level. It helps me clarify my own thinking. When I let go of my fear of being proven wrong, I gain a much richer understanding of the other person and the issue itself.

  • Build shared understanding. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who insists on their view no matter what. But the majority of people, once they feel you’ve heard them, are open to hearing what you have to say. When I really listen and try to understand things from their perspective, I discover more willingness on their part to listen to mine. That’s when the real magic happens. Then we help one another gain a deeper understanding of the issue.

What are you learning about conversing with people who think differently? What have you found helpful in bridging the gap? How has your understanding of the issue changed as a result of listening to another perspective?

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