Have you ever struggled to listen to someone with VERY different views than your own?

I met up with a good friend of mine recently for coffee. We started chatting and politics came into the conversation. When she began passionately sharing her opinions on hot-topic issues and candidates, I was shocked to learn they were so different from my own. With controversial subjects flooding our world today, many people have experienced something similar.

Whether the topic is policy, vaccines, women’s rights, hybrid working, parenting, or Becky from HR—up-leveling your skills in civil discourse is more essential than ever. The key is to create space in our mindsets and heartsets so we can find a way to remain calm when other people have opposing views or say things we dislike. Here’s how:

1. Find common ground.

Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, uses this reflection to find common ground and create a safe environment for others to voice opinions:

  • This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
  • This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
  • This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
  • This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
  • This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.

2. Wake up your objectivity.

Earnestly seeking to find out more about the views of others allows you to listen with objectivity and without the need to agree—or not—with them. I started asking things like:

  • How do you feel about X?”
  • While continuously coming back to “Tell me more…” and
  • I’d like to understand your take on this…”

In the case of my friend, I also asked things like “How did you respond when this announcement was made in the news? Did that change your views about or confidence in this political figure? If not, tell me how you worked with and resolved that?” As I listened, I learned a lot. Staying curious and letting go of ideas about right and wrong in exchange for learning about what others value and why they have the beliefs they do is how we solve real problems together and create a more inclusive world.

3. Pause your own opinions.

Talking with someone who is intense or eager to be understood can feel exhausting and hard. When the person is deadset on their position being the obviously right one, it can also be the fast track to an argument. The best skills to use here:

  • Hit the pause button on your own instincts to prove your points; just listen.
  • Note that when it feels like this person has been going on forever, it’s just your own Inner Ranter wanting its turn in the spotlight.
  • When they’ve shared fully, ask until you get a yes, “I hear your take on this is X, do I have that right?

Because I listened deeply to my friend and made it safe for her to share with me, I gained an understanding of those who may have similar or the same views. It stretched and broadened my thinking precisely because it was so far outside of my own perspective. It also allowed me to keep our shared values in mind without getting stuck in a myopic view of our differences as I shared my own thoughts and ideas.

Now What?

Following these steps does not mean you’ll ever agree with someone’s contrary views, but agreement isn’t necessary. Appreciation, compassion, and a way of relating to people who have a different model of the world is long overdue. These steps are a beginning. Any other way of relating to each other results in mental assaults, emotional hijacking, or physical attacks, between people, neighborhoods, groups, and even countries.

What other approaches have you used to keep your heart and mind open when your views are challenged?

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