Tips For Effectively Approaching Someone With Different Views
November 2, 2020
In the past year specifically, political and social events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have separated people throughout the country. Though beliefs may vary, approaching someone with different views using polite discussion while still preserving your friendship is very much achievable. Right now, during a time where Covid-19, the Election, and severe chaos are stacked on top of each other, it’s more important than ever to look past generalized rivalry among the political threshold, and begin to understand how one another thinks and why. Inkwell collected some tips for effectively approaching someone of a different opinion.
“There are seven blind men standing around an elephant… and every single one of those men, who are blind, think that they understand what the elephant is. And the point is none of them fully understand what the elephant looks like… They have to put the pieces together in order to have a more complete understanding.” – Dr. Bridgette O’Brien
Starting a conversation
Don’t expect other people to change:
Conversations are meant to increase understanding and exchange ideas. A productive conversation’s primary goal should not be to change someone’s mind but to gain a better understanding of the other person’s views.
Go into the conversation with a pre-established positive relationship:
Josh Mitchell, the social studies teacher in the Upper School for Boys, said that starting a conversation is better when you create trust before discussing anything of significance with a potential for disagreement. That way, you have a better chance to remain friends afterward.
Refer to common ground:
On finding common ground, Dr. Brigette O’Brien, global politics teacher in the Upper School for Girls, said, “I think looking for the root of some of those differences and then also trying to find some commonalities between us helps open up that dialogue or conversation.”
Go into the discussion with an open mind:
Be ready to receive some arguments you may not want to hear or understand at first, since those always exist in a discussion. Ask questions. Absorb what knowledge you can and it should improve your perception of such an issue. Dr. O’Brien advises, it is best, when approaching the conversation, to keep in mind “no matter what my opinion is, no matter what my ideas are, there’s [always] more to the picture that I can learn. And I think if we even [just] ask one another to do that, we’re [going to] have more fruitful conversations.”
Having the conversation
Don’t just think of what to say next while the other person is speaking; respectfully listen to the other person’s arguments, interpret it as best you can, and always ask questions if you have them. Staying calm and nonjudgmental during this is important, as prejudice could cause misunderstanding. In addition, being open to new points of view can help you grasp their perspective. O’Brien said, “…being vulnerable and asking questions [is really beneficial], especially when we’re disagreeing about something.”
Avoid toxic discussions:
Toxic discussions are generally less valuable, and there is less potential information and understanding that can be attained. It is harmful to your relationship with the person, and generally a waste of time. When a discussion becomes toxic, O’Brien said, “I think it becomes toxic when somebody in that conversation begins to feel personally attacked or disregarded or disrespected. That’s not only toxic to the exchange itself, but it is toxic to moving that issue or dialogue forward.”
Although the two of you may have established that both sides will present arguments that either might not necessarily agree with, it is still important to consider your language. Being considerate of each other’s experiences is one of the greatest respects you could give in a discussion like this. However, O’Brien said,“…if you really are offended, I think it’s fine to note that, but I think there needs to be some context or a redirection, rather than just… [being] really thoughtless on the exchange.”
Your opinions are not always right:
We have a lot of experiences, perhaps a memory of an encounter or general knowledge, tied in with our beliefs. While we might perceive something as “correct”, it isn’t always the case, because opinions are subjective. As O’Brien said, “we are human, we all have blinders, we all have areas of expertise and knowledge. And I think engaging authentically, and recognizing that we may make mistakes, we may have things to learn… and being open, if we misstep, being aware if people have something to suggest to us. I think that.. is one of the best ways for us to engage.”
Have empathy/compassion throughout the conversation:
Everyone deserves a chance to be listened to. “The first thing to keep in mind is that all people deserve empathy and respect. This even applies to those people who seem to not provide it to others,” said Mitchell.
Attempt to understand the other point of view:
When the other person has finished with their perspective, try to summarize it back to them and have them correct anything if necessary. As Mitchell said, “Sometimes we hear things much different[ly] from what people are really trying to say. Make sure you communicate back what they really meant.” And just because they are presenting a different view than yours doesn’t mean they’re opposing it; there is a spectrum and as O’Brien said, “…asking people where on that continuum are they standing and why rather than assuming that they’re fully on this side or fully on that side” can be very helpful.
“I statements”/understanding that your opinions are just opinions
Using “I” statements helps to convey that everything is from your perspective, and not necessarily a fact. Some examples of “I” statements include: “I believe that…”, “ I’ve noticed…”, “I think…”, and “I feel…”. This helps you indicate that you are speaking on your own behalf and that this is how you view things, not how things actually are.
Ending a conversation
“Listening does not mean agreeing” – Josh Mitchell
The reasoning behind a conversation is not to change minds, and we should be comfortable with the fact that most conversations will not result in an agreement. Rather, be grateful for what you have learned. In regards to agreeing, O’Brien remarked that “we love resolution, we love to know we won, we love to know we’re right, but standing face to face with somebody and looking them in the eye and agreeing to disagree, I think [that] can be a very powerful tool.”
Connect to topics of agreement afterward
Finding middle ground on a subject is an important piece. Especially when you are approaching the end of the discussion, it can create a sense of crossover and can help to humanize each other. Mutual agreement and respect is a key part of any conversation.
Say thank you!
Always say thank you at the end of the discussion. Not only does this make the other person feel appreciated, but it also lets them know that even if you don’t agree, you are still thankful for their opinion, and that furthers your relationship as peers.
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s 2020 Election Print Issue.