Is there a secret to having more productive conversations with family and friends about hot button issues?
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ― Arundhati Roy
You're reasonably passionate about what's going on in the world, you want your family or friends to care about change the way you do, how do you have difficult conversations when you do not see eye to eye?
First things first...Please notice if you have capacity to have this conversation at all. Is your personhood and dignity at the center of this issue? Do you have the ability to have a conversation without feeling harmed? Some conversations need to be ended early, with a boundary stating you are not interested in discussing this issue, to protect your own wellness. Please take care of yourself and exercise caution.
What are your goals?
Figuring out your goals is the first step to having an effective conversation about politics, global issues, or social issues.
As a therapist in Oakland, CA, a lot of my clients and activists. I often notice that though a client's goals are 5 and 6, they are having conversations that reflect goals 1 and 2.
Funny enough, it is my opinion that working toward 3 and 4 are vital for getting to 5 and 6!
Hey, if your goals are 1 and 2, go for it, but...if your goals are to change another person's mind and behavior, you first need to understand the emotions behind their position and potentially find common ground to grow trust.
Understanding The Emotional Stance
Engaging in conversations with family or friends who hold opposing political or value-based beliefs can be challenging and emotionally charged. Emotions are often directing one's viewpoint, so get to the feeling. When you take the time to understand the emotions and viewpoints of your loved ones, it can create a more open and trusting relationship. Emotional understanding can bridge the gap between differing opinions and help foster unity and cooperation. Not to mention, engaging in empathetic conversations with those who have opposing beliefs can be a valuable opportunity for personal growth, allowing you to challenge your own biases and broaden your perspective.
Okay, also if you're only in it to convert, change, convince...how could you possibly do that without understanding how the other person got there? You are going to be less effective if you are not responding to another person as the individual person they are. Even if you find their stance pernicious, there may be an emotional reason that you can respond to, find common ground in the emotional experience, and be convincing as to why you position is a better solution to that emotional problem. There's something wildly disarming about saying "wow, I can see why you are upset and frustrated."
How Does Empathy Increase Effective Communication?
Emotional validation and understanding someone else's perspective can be powerful tools for influencing their views and increasing the likelihood of them agreeing with you.
1. Establishes Trust: When you validate someone's emotions and show empathy, it builds trust. People are more willing to engage in open and honest discussions with those they trust, making it more likely for them to be receptive to your viewpoint.
2. Reduces Defensiveness: When you validate someone's emotions, it helps reduce their defensiveness. People are less likely to become defensive when they feel heard and respected, making them more open to considering alternative viewpoints.
3. Enhances Communication: Emotional validation fosters better communication. It creates a safe and non-confrontational environment where both parties can express themselves, exchange ideas, and genuinely listen to one another.
4. Promotes Active Listening: When you validate someone's emotions, you encourage them to speak more openly about their perspective. This, in turn, allows you to better understand their viewpoint, which is essential for crafting persuasive arguments.
5. Empathy Builds Bridges: Demonstrating empathy by understanding another person's emotions and perspective can bridge the gap between differing viewpoints. It shows that you care about their feelings and are willing to consider their perspective.
6. Opens the Door to Reciprocity: When you validate someone emotionally, they are more likely to reciprocate by being open to your perspective. They may feel more obligated to listen to your viewpoint since you have shown them understanding and respect.
7. Reduces Emotional Resistance: Emotional validation can help reduce emotional resistance to change. When people feel that their emotions are acknowledged and validated, they may be more willing to entertain new ideas without feeling threatened.
8. Encourages Self-Reflection: When you validate someone's emotions, it encourages them to reflect on their own beliefs and feelings. They may be more inclined to question their own viewpoints and consider alternative perspectives.
9. Strengthens Persuasion: By first validating someone's emotions and understanding their viewpoint, you can strategically tailor your arguments and messaging to align with their values and concerns. This increases the chances of your argument resonating with them.
10. Promotes Long-Term Change: When people feel emotionally understood and validated, they are more likely to make lasting changes in their beliefs or behaviors. This is because they are more likely to adopt new ideas willingly rather than feeling coerced or pressured.
WOW! That's a lot!
Emotions can run high in such discussions, but maintaining your composure can set a positive example and create a more relaxed atmosphere.
Practical tips to help you emotionally understand family and friends when discussing your disagreements:
Some tips for effective communication on difficult topics:
1. Emotionally Regulate: Emotions can run high in such discussions, but maintaining your composure can set a positive example and create a more relaxed atmosphere. There are a lot of ways to do this: Podcasts for nervous system regulaton. Overwhelm by anger tips. Anger dysregulation.
2. Active Listening: Listen attentively without interrupting. Make an effort to comprehend their perspective fully before responding. More on active listening.
3. Validate Emotions: Acknowledge the emotions they're expressing, even if you don't agree with their viewpoint. Validation can create a safe space for dialogue.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage them to share more about their viewpoint by asking open-ended questions that invite them to express themselves.
5. Practice Empathy: Try to imagine how they might be feeling, and put yourself in their shoes. This can help you connect with their emotions and viewpoint.
6. Avoid Judgment: Suspend judgment and refrain from making negative assessments of their beliefs. Remember that each person's experiences shape their perspective.
7. Find Common Ground: Seek areas of agreement or shared values as a starting point for constructive conversations.
More on blogs on managing family:
5 Stages of Grief in Family
3 Tips for Managing Family
Looking from a trauma therapist in Oakland, CA? Learn more here.
Looking for a queer couples therapist in Oakland, CA? Learn more here.
how to have difficult conversations
***Resources are not a substitute for therapy and are not intended for making diagnoses or providing treatment. Not all practices and tools are suitable for every person. Please discuss exercises, practices, and tools with your individual therapist or health care provider.