In today’s political environment, the potential for conflict has never been greater. For this reason, it has become increasingly important for people to know how to civilly communicate with others who have different values and opinions. The truth is, people tend to have more in common than they realize, but surface-level differences can make it challenging to understand each other. As a result, outcomes are often unproductive as many people have witnessed across leadership in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, Civil Dialogue 101 is not a class that high schools require alongside other core subjects like math and English. Nonetheless, it is a skillset that every person in the United States (and the entire world) could benefit from. If you want to have a positive impact on the world around you and help make real changes, here are nine tips for having a civil conversation with someone who disagrees with you.
1. Avoid Assumptions
Despite what you may believe, try to avoid making negative assumptions about a person just because he or she disagrees. Most people are not bad, and believing someone has good intentions can make it easier to hear what they have to say.
2. Remain Calm
Learning how to limit frustration when talking to someone with a different point of view can sometimes be a challenge, but if you ever want to reach understanding, remaining calm will nearly always get you there faster than losing your cool. When you get mad, it can prevent you from thinking clearly, and when you are unable to think, there is little chance anything productive will come out of the dialogue.
3. Ask Questions
One of the best ways to understand someone else is by asking questions. There are millions of things that each person does not know. If someone who disagrees with you says something you do not understand, there is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. On the contrary, it can help make the other person feel heard while also increasing your comprehension of his or her perspective.
4. Listen To Understand, Not To Reply
Another big part of understanding comes from the way you listen. To hear is not necessarily to listen. When a person is talking to you, what is your intent? Do you prepare what you are going to say while they are still speaking, or are you thinking about the words you are hearing? If your answer is the former, consider trying the latter approach next time.
5. Make a Solid Argument
Avoid common logical fallacies by producing a solid premise and conclusion for your argument. Ask yourself why you believe what you believe, and why you think your opinion is more correct than another point of view. If you cannot answer the “why” behind your belief, reassess the problem and what you think before trying to make your case.
6. Refrain From Name-Calling
No matter how upset you may feel, nothing productive comes from rude behavior, personal attacks, or profanity. In addition, avoid making blanket statements or assigning labels. Regardless of whether you agree with someone or not, there is no reason for anyone to disrespect the other.
When it comes to political affiliations, throwing insults at the opposite side is nothing new, but that does not make it right. Instead, if individuals approach complex issues with no labels assigned to political parties, everyone can sit down together. Whereas labels create a wall, the lack of labels creates a table.
7. Show Compassion and Understanding
Even if you cannot reach an agreement, let the other person know you hear them, and try your hardest to see things from his or her point of view. When two people cannot see eye-to-eye, showing compassion and kindness to one another can be one way to still find some kind of common ground. At the end of the day, every single person is human. If nothing else, humanity is what connects everyone.
One way you can show understanding is in the way you reply to someone. After hearing someone’s argument, respond with statements like, “It seems like you are saying…” or “If I understand you correctly, you think…” Then, give the other person an opportunity to confirm or correct your interpretation.
8. Throw Sarcasm Out the Window
There is a time and a place for using sarcasm, but that place is better in late night television and not in the middle of a conversation between two people who disagree. Similarly, there is no need to be condescending.
9. Be Teachable
The best teachers are the ones who know they are never done learning. In addition to teaching others what you think and know, make sure you are willing to learn something new yourself.
With all of the conflict in today’s society, there is a desperate need for civil discourse among citizens who hold different points of view. Regardless of political party, each U.S. citizen is American, and learning how to communicate with one another is one of the most powerful ways to move the country forward.