What happens when we encounter someone whose opinions greatly differ from our own or we find our spouse as a very different opinion on certain topics? How do we stand firm in our convictions, without alienating or offending family, friends, a neighbor or a co-worker? Here are four things to keep in mind when you find yourself in the middle of a controversial conversation:
- Be Kind. When someone disagrees with your point of view, it’s easy to let your emotions take over. In a heated discussion, it’s best to avoid personal attacks, like name-calling or attacking someone’s character. The moment you hit below the belt, you lose respect and credibility. No matter your stance, it’s never OK to personally attack someone simply because they think differently than you.
- Be Patient. Don’t get so caught up expressing your own beliefs that you don’t take time to listen to what the other person is saying. Make a genuine effort to understand their point-of-view, even if you don’t agree. Try not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Ask questions for clarification, and be willing to wait for the answer.
- Be Thoughtful. Once you’ve effectively listened to the other person’s perspective, begin formulating your response—thoughtfully. When possible, do adequate research on the subject, providing illustrations and examples to help others understand your point of view. Be prepared to share why believe what you believe.
- Be Clear. If at all possible, avoid using jargon or terminology that the other person may not be familiar with. Steer clear of unnecessarily language, using short, direct sentences. You will be less effective if the other person is confused. In addition, try not to talk in circles, or attempt to change the subject in the middle of the conversation—stick to the topic at hand, even if things get uncomfortable.
If you keep these tips in mind, and things still get out of hand, be quick to apologize and quick to forgive. If the conversation ends on a sour note, don’t leave it there—make an effort to amends, as soon as things calm down. Don’t let a difficult discussion cause a rift between you and a friend or loved one. Do a self-assessment of what you could have done or said differently, using what you learn to have more effective dialogue in the future.