When was the last time you had a really good conversation – one that left you feeling like you’d both learned and contributed – with someone you disagreed with?
We tend to talk to people who think like us, keep up with news sources that align with our conservative or liberal viewpoints, and allow our social media accounts to feed us “more of the same.” It’s hard to climb out of our personal echo chambers.
Yet the more we stay in our bubbles, the more polarized and less-informed we become. It’s understandable. Many of today’s most pressing issues are deeply personal and can be difficult to talk or even think about – race, politics, policing, COVID-19, and the list goes on. We feel like we have to avoid controversial or sensitive topics in order to get along. Or do we?
At the libraries, we make a point of including materials from a variety of viewpoints and encouraging people to explore different perspectives. Picking up a book that you disagree with is a great start toward understanding someone else’s point of view.
Still, there’s no substitute for real conversation with real people, especially the neighbors and coworkers we want to form good relationships with even when we don’t see eye to eye. But as it turns out, conversation is not something we humans are very good at. So how does one have a good conversation, anyway?
Celeste Headlee’s We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter has some great tips. (Find her TED Talk for the short version.)
- Listen and be present. Don’t multi-task or let your mind wander.
- Be curious and eager to learn. Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.
- Ask open-ended questions and be willing to admit when you don’t know an answer.
- Get off your soapbox and stop repeating yourself. Don’t be a broken record, and don’t dominate the conversation with your opinions.
- Don’t self-promote or equate your experience with theirs. Work to understand their perspective; it’s not about you.
No doubt about it, having a good conversation about sensitive topics with someone you disagree with is really, really hard. It’s hard because we have to set aside our own self-interests and opinions to listen carefully to someone who sees the world differently. Yet it can be exceptionally liberating to open our minds and generously give someone else the floor. Practice looking for that one gem of information – no matter how small – in a conversation that you can add to your toolbox, something that helps you understand or do something better. We can all learn from each other.
Most of us want the same things. We want to be safe and happy, and we want a better world for our children. We don’t have to agree with each other to have good conversations about things that matter. Sometimes the most important outcome is walking in someone else’s shoes for a few minutes, and discovering that they’re more like us than not. So let’s talk.
Botetourt County Libraries