Productive Conversation
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The holidays are coming up and with them gatherings with friends and family who may not share the same views we do. In this episode we consider how to have productive and grace-filled conversations even when we disagree. It's possible to disagree while still showing love and respect. This week's episode was inspired by the Editor's Letter, written by Editor-in-Chief Stephen Orr, in the November 2022 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. In his Editor’s Letter, Orr talks about how we as people are becoming more and more siloed into smaller and smaller groups, segregated not by race but by ideology. As he says, “Everyone is algorithmically subdividing into tighter and tighter slivers of the media spectrum. What you read and watch is not what everyone else is experiencing. The ideas and concepts you’re absorbing daily may not exist outside your proverbial bubble.”  His opinion is that with the vast expansion of media and social media outlets, it has become easy for us to hear only what we want to hear, only what affirms what we already believe. Since that’s all we’re hearing, we can come to believe, without consciously recognizing it, that it is the only truth, the only rational way to think. It’s not a far step from there to believing anyone who believes anything else is wrong--and not just wrong, but worse. . . . We become isolated ideologically.  It’s not particularly insightful to note that this is having negative impacts. In a Psychology Today article, social ethicist and communications expert Melody Stanford Martin says it this way: “In our present political climate, many of us are experiencing a breakdown in our ability to engage the ‘other side.’ When these channels of communication fail, it can represent a significant loss to our relationships, our families, our communities, and even our democracy.” As I read Orr's Editor's Letter and Martin's article, I thought of recent Twitter threads I've seem in which dozens, maybe hundreds, of people proudly talk about how they’ve disassociated from family members solely because of what political party or candidate they support. How to talk to people you disagree with Orr asks the question: “How are we supposed to avoid talking about the important topics of the day without triggering the elephant in the room into full stampede mode?”  His answer: “approaching any edgy topics that arise with grace, as in the dictionary definition of ‘courteous goodwill.’” I agree. Following are a few thoughts to keep in mind as we consider conversations--whether at holiday gatherings or elsewhere--with people with whom we disagree. First, and maybe most important: Relationships matter more than being right. In the context of conversations at family gatherings, Orr says, “What matters most is not necessarily winning the argument or changing a person’s mind but realizing that the person you’re talking to is someone you love--or someone who is loved by someone you love.” Seek to understand. As Orr says in his Editor’s Letter, “the key is to be able to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from.”  Melody Stanford Martin agrees: “Our goals in difficult conversations should generally be to 1) Protect the relationship with that person, and 2) to increase your understanding and increase the chances that you will be understood.”  In that quest to understand, ask questions--and listen to the answers. This helps us to understand why they believe what they do. Signals that you’re listening, that they’re being heard.
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