A close friend told me this week about a phone conversation she had with someone she hadn’t spoken to in years. During their call, the topic inevitably turned to politics and it became clear that they had very different viewpoints and both were passionate about their positions. It was so bad, that my friend said she couldn’t sleep that night because she kept replaying the conversation and was frustrated that she felt inadequate during the call to confidently or fluently speak up for what she believed.
That got me thinking.
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about race and racism and I find myself understanding the conflict my friend was feeling. I’ve talked with people of color, learning about their perspectives and hopes, but also with people who fundamentally disagree with me and don’t believe that systemic racism exists or needs to end. Obviously, conversations with people who do not share my viewpoint are much more uncomfortable but I’ve come to understand that to Speak Up with HEART™ we must begin with sincere listening. I believe this is the key to choosing connection over conflict.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking a course led by David Campt of The Dialogue Company called Empathy is Your Superpower, and it’s helping me see that those of us who want to be effective allies in the fight against racism must be on a mission to connect, not conquer. As humans, it’s easy to demonize an opposing position (or other people who hold that position) for one reason or another. To build bridges that unite our division, it helps in these times to remember we are all human beings who were created in the image of God. Someone is more likely to make a real and lasting change if they feel the other person is not the enemy and if they are treated with respect – it’s behavioral science.
For example, in a recent class a woman told the story of how she grew up in a cult. She said she owed getting out of the cult to people who treated her as an intelligent, competent human being, because the people who told her how bad or stupid the cult was or how she was foolish for not leaving it only made her want to dig in and stay longer.
Listening without criticizing or waiting to interject our point is challenging for a lot of us… So, inspired by the power of this course, I was moved to explore how I was navigating these conversations as a practicing communication specialist. In the process I came up with a game-plan that others can use to better communicate with people who have strongly opposing viewpoints.
Here are my Seven Steps for Choosing Connection over Conflict:
- Mentally acknowledge the disagreement and notice your body’s reaction… Then take a deep breath to relax.
- Remind yourself of something positive about this person. (If nothing else, remember they are a fellow human being.)
- Set the intention to connect with them and to open the door for future conversations about tough topics.
- Listen to their perspective without interrupting. (You may have to press your lips together to stay silent.)
- When they pause, ask them to tell you more about the experiences that caused them to feel that way.
- Avoid saying “but” at all costs! It negates anything positive you might have said before using the word.
- Thank them for the opportunity to get to know them better, tell them you hope you can talk again, and call it a win.
Finally, remember this:
Just because you didn’t explain your perspective this time, doesn’t mean you agree with them.
Just because you didn’t change their mind this time, doesn’t mean you didn’t have an impact on them.
Speaking up with heart isn’t just about getting your point across. It starts with listening with the intent to connect. If heartfelt listening is hard for you, I challenge you in the next 48 hours to listen to someone who has a different opinion or viewpoint than you, speaking only to ask follow-up or clarifying questions about the experiences that led them to feel this way. Don’t interrupt or try to explain your side. Just listen. You don’t have to start with emotionally-charged topics like politics or national news. You can begin with an easier task by listening to someone who likes food or a color you don’t appreciate. Then please let me know what that experience was like through email at firstname.lastname@example.org OR booking a time to talk with me HERE. I can’t wait to hear how it went!
Yours Out Loud,