In our current polarized milieu, with virus and race discussions as daily events, people are often divided into “camps” – those who wear masks and those who refuse, those who see white privilege as a reality and those who deny it, those who trust mainstream news and those who reject it, and on the list goes.
Perhaps, you have a valued client who holds a belief that is fundamentally different than yours, or a friend or family member with whom you hope to retain a close relationship. When the subject comes up, how do you talk with them without alienating them? Here is a solid strategy to employ.
First, let go of the need to persuade. Most likely, you won’t convince them anyway, and if you try, the conversation will end in frustration or anger. Therefore, the goal is to understand, not to contradict. If that is impossible for you, at least in some situations or with some people, then don’t even engage in the topic. Tell them you want to maintain your relationship and so you choose not to discuss such controversial topics. You understand they have strongly held beliefs, and you defend their right to have them, but it simply takes too much precious time and energy to get into such difficult topics.
If you can simply listen, then try this sample verbiage: “I value my relationship with you, and so I’d like to hear more about your views. That’s what’s important to me – not to convince you I’m right but to understand your perspective and where you’re coming from. So tell me more. What do you believe about this situation and why?”
Then listen well, with compassionate curiosity. Ask questions based on what they say. “So what I think you’re saying is…… Is that right, or how would you correct it?” Listen and clarify until you could explain their position back to them as accurately as they would explain it themselves.
Then thank them for being honest and forthright with you. If they ask whether they have convinced you, you can say something like, “Well, you’ve given me things to think about. We may have to agree to disagree on several points. But the most important thing is that I understand so much more clearly now what you believe and why, and that’s the goal. Thank you for sharing your story and your beliefs with me. I really appreciate it.”
Remember that what people need most is to feel that they’ve been heard. In addition, we all need to do a little more listening to those whose beliefs differ from ours rather than dismissing them out of hand. We hope these tips help you do that.
For a more extension discussion of this topic, see my recent article in Wealth Management.