“What’s the Point?”: Having Conversations with People Who Think Differently Than You

Let me start by saying, I am totally guilty of this. Plenty of times I have forgone the difficult or awkward conversation in the name of comfort. Plenty of times I have convinced myself that it was “better for the relationship” that we simply not go there. What was the point, right? So please know: there is no soapbox. There is no judgement. Let’s just talk about this together for a minute… Deal?

What We Tell Ourselves (and Others)

It’s pointless.
It’s redundant.
It will cause a rift in the relationship.
They’re never going to change their mind.
It’s like beating my head against a wall.
It just makes me angry.
I get too worked up. I can’t do it without exploding.
They’ll just try and convince me to believe what they believe. They don’t actually want to understand me.
We just argue in circles.
And on and on…

My friend, the above experiences have so much more to do with *how* we’re approaching these conversations, and are not a reflection of a person’s incapacity to change their mind. Because we can. We change our minds all the time. Our minds open to change through compassionate dialogue, empathy, and new information getting integrated into the whole.

The problem is that too often, our intentions behind having these conversations are for the person to leave believing what we believe. We intend to change their minds.

This is the wrong approach. It just won’t get us where we want to be. And unfortunately because so many of us (myself included) have exhausted ourselves of this method, our alternative becomes usually one of two things: 1. We get angry. We rant. We rave. We point fingers and blame and while it feels really damn good, it’s not helping our cause. 2. We get passive. We shut down. We stop doing anything at all because it all feels like a waste of time. We become insular and stick to conversing with like-minded folks. Again, while this can feel good and even be a form of *self-care* in its own right sometimes, it’s not furthering our cause.

I have tried both of these methods myself and I’m here to tell you, they feel great! Of course they do. They are comfortable and predictable and easy. I’m sad to say I have relied on one or the other for a very long time.

I’m taking the opportunity here to not only out myself, but to share what I’ve learned from trying a new approach. Something that - funny enough given my profession - hadn’t occurred to me as an option. So here goes. Here’s the one fundamental principle that has the potential to change everything:

First, seek to understand. Then, and only then, seek to be understood.

Seeking to understand means listening. Usually when we’re speaking with people who have a different experience of the world than our own, we’re not *really* listening. Active, deep, listening and attunement is what works. Here’s what that looks like:

  1. Open posture. Don’t cross your legs or arms. It’s a defensive and closed posture. It’s difficult to take in and fully synthesize new information from this stance.

  2. Kind eyes. Kindness and hatred are both equally contagious. Choose wisely.

  3. Soft face. Be aware of any tension you’re holding in your face and try to soften or relax it. Often when we hold tension in our faces we can appear judgemental. This is why many of us get the “resting bitch face” remark. :)

  4. Listen like you’ll be quizzed later. You’re #1 goal should be to fully understand the other person’s story as though it were your own. And that last part is key. That’s empathy. You’re really working to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s it. No hidden agendas. No ulterior motives.

Next, lead with genuine curiosity. Don’t you really want to know why this person believes what they believe? Isn’t that more productive than shutting them out or ignoring them or this part of them? Here are some questions that I am always genuinely curious about with others:

  1. What was this person’s childhood like? How were they parented (or not)?

  2. What was the story around difference learned through their family?

  3. What was the story around emotions learned through their family? Was it safe to feel? Was it safe to have an alternative belief or opinion?

  4. What role did religion play in their upbringing?

  5. What are their values?

  6. What other significant life experiences have shaped their views?

  7. What “encounters” with people different than themselves have they had already? What were the likely takeaways from those experiences?

  8. What are their fears?

  9. Where do they feel most vulnerable in their lives?

  10. What are their dreams for the future?

Finally, unless you already have a very close and trusting relationship with the person, try not to relate their experiences to your own. This probably runs contrary to a lot of advice you’ve heard before, and may even challenge your instincts. But hear me out. Seeking to understand another person’s life through your own personal lens means that you’re both interpreting and judging their life and choices based on your own experiences. It’s just ultimately not useful. Try empathy instead, rather than simple relatability.

So, let’s recap: What IS the point of having conversations with people who think differently than you?

The point and goal of such a conversation is not, in fact, to convince the other person to think like you. If that’s your expectation or end game, then “what’s the point” is absolutely correct. The point, my friend, is rather to understand. Which is, to say, to connect us. Seeking to understand is far more beneficial to the future of our species than the alternative because it allows us to truly “come to the table” versus trying to drag the other person down the hallway to our exclusive camp. Research supports that we are biologically stronger together than divided. First, seek to understand, then to be understood. To summarize: Don’t have expectations. Don’t try to change others. Don’t try to relate their experiences to your own. Do actively listen. Do practice empathy. Do put yourself in another’s shoes. And do, above all, lead with genuine curiosity.

Want more tidbits? Grab your free copy of “5 Easy Steps to Stop Arguing and Start Communicating” now and get even more step by step support. I got you, boo!