It’s hard to talk about contentious topics these days, especially if the person you’re speaking to has a differing opinion from your own. Just look at any social media post about politics, religion or current events, and you’ll see the constant stream of angry comments from people who simply can’t talk to each other anymore without spouting profanity and calling the other’s character into question.
Talking to someone you disagree with isn’t easy in today’s climate, but it’s sometimes necessary. Here are some tips and tricks to make that conversation a little bit easier.
Don’t Get Angry
We’ve reached a point in our society that if someone doesn’t agree with us, our default response is to get angry. This strategy doesn’t help. If you get angry, the person you’re talking to gets angry, and it’s an unending cycle that doesn’t lead anywhere.
The first trick to talking to people you disagree with is avoiding anger. It’s important to learn how to disagree with someone without getting mad. It’s not easy — it’s our natural response to get defensive when someone challenges something that we believe in, but you can do so without getting angry.
The trick is to be able to acknowledge an opposing viewpoint without the need to believe in it or get angry that someone else does — and there’s nothing we can say to make that easier. It takes practice and trial and error to find something that works for you.
It was Aristotle who said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is the mantra that you need to live by.
Learn to Listen
People talk to you all day long, but how often do you actually sit down and listen? Actually actively listen rather than letting the words go in one ear and out the other? Most people don’t listen — they just hear. The second trick you need to learn is to be a better listener.
Start by being committed to the conversation. Don’t just smile and nod and give them the occasional ‘uh-huh’ while you check your phone. Commit yourself to paying attention to the words the other person is saying — including their facial expression and body language because you listen with more than just your ears.
Properly listening is a very learnable skill, according to neuroscientists at Brown University — it just takes a little dedication and a bit of patience, especially with yourself. Like any skill, it’s not something you’re going to learn or become proficient at overnight.
Know When to Retreat
Being an active listener and discussing without getting angry are both good skills to learn, but they’re not the perfect solution, and sometimes you need to know when to retreat from a situation for your own mental health. That’s where safe spaces come into play.
Yes, we know — safe spaces are derided by popular media as a product of the ‘snowflake’ generation, the generation that can’t handle stressful situations like the generations before them. However, they can be an invaluable tool.
Let’s face it — millennials and Gen-Z-ers know how to take better care of their mental health than any generation before them. Retreating to a safe space gives you the time to recover, calm down and mentally prepare yourself for another confrontation or conversation. It also gives you a way to establish boundaries with friends and co-workers.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you’re starting to get angry, don’t feel bad about retreating or removing yourself from the situation. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and look at the circumstances with a new perspective once you’ve had a chance to calm down and think things over.
You can talk to people you disagree with, even if it isn’t always a pleasant interaction. You could even try taking a communications course or joining the local debate team to learn how to properly debate with someone if that might help.
The key is to avoid getting angry and be an active listener — if you can master those two things, everything else will fall into place. As a result, it will become much easier to entertain an opposing idea without accepting it, just like Aristotle said.
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