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How to Have the Hard Conversation

There seems to be a hesitation to communicate with people who have different opinions on polarized topics these days. People have narrowed down who they will hear from. We pick our news feed to have the slant we want; we unfollow or unfriend people with a different stance. We narrow our lives down to people who think and believe the way we do. If someone tries to present a different view, we simply put them in the category of “not my people, not my side, not worthy of hearing.”

But why the hesitation to communicate?

I once saw on the national news a story about a team of people who were asked whether they would change their minds about something if they were given tons of factual confirmation that what they believed was wrong. They resoundingly said, “No.” Some even jumped to their feet to add emphasis to their “NO!”

This could be any group of people on any given subject today.

In the workplace, many are so afraid that people might make us feel that we should just mind our own business and stay in our own lane. In social settings, many of us no longer feel a freedom to share an opinion that may be contrary because it automatically puts us on the extreme other side of whatever their side is. So, to keep from being alienated, we don’t speak up until everyone around us agrees that we are right. Once the majority agrees with us, there is no problem with voicing our opinions.

This mindset is overtaking the ability to have any discussion, even about things that desperately need to be hashed out and collaborated. We are avoiding a ton of subjects that need to be discussed because we no longer know how to discuss.

We have stopped talking in areas that still need to have some dialog, disagreement, and collaboration. There is only shouting or silence.

We desperately need differences in view, opinion, understanding, interpretation, and even clarification, but we need to do them respectfully. So how do we do what is not being done well—that is, having a hard conversation over things that desperately need to be discussed?

Strategies for Hard Conversations

Earn the right to speak. Build relationships with those people that disagree with you and earn the right to share a different point of view.

Humility. Seriously come to the conversation with a willingness to have your mind changed, not just to present your view.

Listen attentively. Listen with your entire body. Lean in. Keep your posture open. Check your face and make sure it is inviting. Fix your eyes on the speaker until you know the color of their eyes and do not think of anything but what they are saying.

Thank them. You asked them to share more about their opinion, so your first response should be to thank them for doing that.

Restate what you heard. We run our present conversation through a sieve of previous discussions. It takes great effort to listen to what is being said at this moment and not clumping it into old thoughts. The habit of clarifying what you understand their view to be and restating it validates that their opinion is being heard and that you did not misunderstand them.

Ask permission to share your view. Clearly request or ask permission to address or comment. May I comment on that? Do you mind if I share a thought or two?

Don’t attack. Every conversation does not have to be won, but different views must be presented. Be respectful and honor your differences.

Give them time to think. People may walk away from a discussion and later change their mind if the content is presented in a way that they can hear.

Today, it is as critical as ever to have hard conversations. There are so many topics that are controversial but desperately need to be discussed. If we as a society want unity and peace, we must address these issues, and that can’t be done without first talking it out.

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