I met my best friend in kindergarten when I was two years old. Over the years, she and I went to different schools and universities, became friends with entirely different groups of people and followed different life paths. She became more conservative and religious; I became more liberal and agnostic. However, whenever we came together again, we could speak openly about our beliefs without fear of judgement. We always wanted to learn from each other. This year she asked me to be her maid of honour at her wedding. 

In this life, it is guaranteed that you will find yourself in conversation with (or even best friends with) someone who shares an alternative outlook than you do. While engaging in discussions with people who hold different perspectives to you may be challenging, it can also be an opportunity to broaden our understanding, empathise with others, and build connections. Read on to find tips on navigating difficult conversations. 

  1. When attempting a difficult discussion, do not focus on the facts. Both you and the other person have knowledge about the subject, no matter if it is necessarily accurate or not. Tossing them at each other will only accomplish a little, and you’ll likely feel frustrated and worn out. One side may even withdraw or become more aggressive. Instead, share a personal story that will express your viewpoint. People will be more likely to understand your position if you explain it through your experiences.
  2. Instead of focusing on being right, let’s try to comprehend the other person’s perspective. This means we need to show empathy by being attentive and without judging what the other person says. Your conversational partner will feel heard, setting the tone for the interaction.
  3. Summarise what the person has said and repeat it back to them. Make sure to speak calmly and purposefully while avoiding language that can be seen as aggressive or dismissive. The purpose of this is to know if you have understood what they have said. It may even help them to see what they have said more clearly as you will emphasise the nuances in their thinking. You will become a more active listener in the process and may even discover that you have missed an essential point in their argument.
  4. As in step 2, practising empathy will also help you to find common ground in what the other person has expressed. Even if you disagree with part of their statement, focus on the part you can relate to and build a response from there. Engaging and connecting are much more beneficial than arguing.
  5. Ensure you absorb as much knowledge as you are imparting. Don’t just wait for your opportunity to talk. If you want your discussion partner to be open and receptive to your thoughts, you should be open-minded and flexible too.
  6. Lastly, to have productive conversations, you and the other person must be willing to participate! If you need a moment to catch your breath and reset, don’t feel wrong about politely excusing yourself. It’s normal to disagree with others, but talking to people with different opinions is a great opportunity to broaden your perspectives and gain valuable social skills that you can use in your next challenging conversation.

Follow these suggestions to ensure respectful and engaging conversations that are still honest and open. With patience and understanding, even the most challenging discussions can become enriching experiences for both parties involved. So, when you join a contentious conversation, don’t feel intimidated;  there is so much you can learn and enjoy!

Tell us: which tip do you think is most useful for you, and why?