How to turn down the heat when talking to people you disagree with

This was floating around Facebook as a Word document; I don’t know who originally wrote it.

How To ‘Depolarize’ A Heated Conversation

The Challenge:

To understand someone else’s point of view—and perhaps have them get a sense of your own—on topics that evoke such high levels of passion, anger, and discord at a time when the stakes have never felt higher.

A few core principles:

  • Avoid labels.
  • Start by really listening and understanding someone else’s perspective. This only works if you acknowledge to yourself that you have much to learn.
  • Seek underlying points of common ground and concern, and acknowledge them. These are less likely to be about policy than about basic fears, dreams, and values.
  • Never assume that anyone is completely against you or completely with you.
  • Stand with the most vulnerable—both the most vulnerable parts of ourselves as well as the most vulnerable people.
  • Listen with empathy and expect to learn.
  • Act out of love, not fear or hate.

Techniques to use during a conversation:

1) Rely on phrases firmly grounded in inquiry, such as:

  • Tell me more about…
  • What has been your experience with…?
  • How does that work in situations such as…?
  • What would it look like if…?
  • I hadn’t heard that, where was it posted? [For conversations focusing on information, such as when someone cites a news story or statistic]

2) Watch out for the word ‘why’. Often it can make people dig in their heels on a subject, even if the questioner is asking from a place of genuinely wanting to understand the other’s position. You can arrive at the same goal by using words such as curious, interested, and elaborate. Mix and match them with phrases from above, or use some of these examples:

  • I’m curious what your background has been with…?
  • I’m interested to hear more about…
  • Can you elaborate on…?

3) Try to use open-ended inquiries instead of yes/no questions. Avoid phrases such as the following that often precede a yes/no question:

  • Do you think that…?
  • Isn’t it true that…?
  • Would/Wouldn’t you agree…?

4) A close cousin of the yes/no question is the double-barreled question. Such as:

“Are you religious or do you just not care?”

Stay away from using them when discussing any sensitive topic. If you are asked a double-barreled question you can respond with neutral phrases that might open up the lines of communication, such as:

  • There’s a lot more going on than those two things.
  • If only it was so cut and dry an issue.
  • I wish it were a simple choice.
  • Somewhere on the vast spectrum between those two things is where I stand.

Remember: It may not be possible to change each other’s minds, but it is possible to have a conversation without escalating the fiery emotions and resorting to your respective corners only to wait for the next round. If both sides leave with the feeling that the other side is, at the very least, not a crazy/misinformed/ignorant fool then perhaps that is accomplishment enough.

seen 02/2017