You’ve no doubt noticed that there’s a lot of disagreement between people in our world. This is nothing new. But is it just me, or are we getting worse at handling disagreements? Here are ten questions to ask yourself if you would like to improve the quality of the conversations you are having with people you don’t agree with. I’m grateful for a podcast by Jared Byas for inspiring these reflections.
1) Am I having this conversation to be confirmed in my own beliefs or to sincerely seek the truth, wherever it leads?
2) Am I primarily focused on understanding another or being understood? Before you can say “I disagree,” you must be able to say, “I understand.”
3) Is my goal to connect more deeply with the other person or to persuade them of my viewpoint?
4) Can I accept that in many conversations about difficult subjects, I will not persuade the other person to my viewpoint? Am I willing to reach the conclusion that “We disagree and that’s OK?”
5) Am I able to communicate with vulnerability rather than with a condescending vibe of “I’m more mature, more wise, more spiritual, and more enlightened than you are.”
6) Do I engage in all-or-nothing thinking, assuming that if you disagree with me, you’re evil or ignorant? Can I accept that people can be both reasonable and disagree with each other? Even experts disagree!
7) Do I practice active listening, repeating what I’m hearing in my own words to ensure that I’m understanding fairly and clearly?
8) Do I speak for myself, using “I” statements (e.g., “this is what I think”)?
9) Do I use dismissive words or phrases? For example, comments like “It’s not rocket science” or “Everyone knows” are tantamount to saying “You’re an idiot.” How do you like it when you’re on the receiving end of such condescension?
10) Do I practice the art of asking questions that open up the conversation and encourage the honest exchange of ideas?