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David Campt: A dozen do's and don't's for effective dialogue in trying times
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David Campt: A dozen do's and don't's for effective dialogue in trying times

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The calendar has turned to a new year, but the challenges of having an effective dialogue with people on the other side politically remain.

And, in fact, probably have worsened.

Ongoing, intense disputes about the election make it even harder for everyday people to have a constructive conversation if they don’t agree already.

The good news is that there are some tried-and-true lessons for having a better conversation that, if we stick to, virtually guarantee that our conversations will go better — whether they are about politics or any other point of disagreement.

So, in this polarized political environment, I am presenting the Good Dialogue Dozen Do’s and Don’t’s to improve dialogue skills, especially with persons of differing perspectives.

DO ...

1. Consider whether you are biased against the other person’s viewpoint.

Think about whether your real goal is to change his or her entire political outlook. No one likes to be the target of an ideological conversion. If the topic is politics, you may need to choose one or two issues — racism, gun violence — and focus accordingly. Attempts for total conversion to your perspective usually leads to resistance.

2. Consciously warm up your empathy muscle and open your heart to the other person.

Before you speak or meet, recharge your empathy. Recall good moments, think about the person's good qualities, or remind yourself of goals of his or hers with which you agree. Your open heart supports that person's open mind.

3. Reflect on mental techniques you will need in the moment.

Think about what you need to do to stay centered in an empathetic listening mode. For example, you may need to think about the person as a 5-year-old in a bathtub. Boosting your empathy will help your influence.

4. Highlight points of connection.

Get past your desire to feel different from the other person because he or she has views you don’t like. If you like a person's shirt, say it. If you are a parent as they are, say that. Highlighting the connecting points makes it harder for others to see you as an enemy.

5. Look for one embedded idea with which you agree; then share a personal story related to that thought or experience.

Try to find a point of agreement embedded within their position with which you disagree. For instance, you don’t think “Cops treat all groups fairly,” but you do agree with the embedded idea that “There are good cops out there.” Then tell a personal story that illustrates your agreement. Storytelling builds rapport.

6. Drive your point home through another story.

Focus your first story at alignment with that person's perspective, which will engender trust that your experience has validity. After that, share a second personal anecdote confirming your point has validity.

DON’T ...

1. Expect total and instant conversions.

Your reasonable goal is not to create an immediate, deep epiphany. Ratchet down your aspirations. Instead, get the person to say or think, “Hmm, I never thought about this that way,” which means you have succeeded.

2. Correct the person's problematic statements. Instead, ask experience questions.

When you hear an opinion you don’t like, ask questions that will shift the conversation to a recent or long-ago experience related to that opinion. Stories about experiences boost empathy, reflection and connectedness.

3. Attempt to shame others.

Calling another person a name — “racist!,” “misogynist!,” “snowflake!” — may feel good, but will likely reduce your influence. People don’t learn when they are verbally shamed. You need to decide what’s important: Getting some mental movement from them or later bragging about the conversation with other folks who share your views.

4. Use terms or facts the way you do with other like-minded people.

Avoid using terms that they don’t know or understand differently than you. This is not the time for tutelage on the latest thinking from your camp. Using terms that others may interpret as condescending, strange or unfamiliar decreases your influence.

5. Perform mic drops and touchdown dances. They will hurt you.

When you have moved them to “Hmm” don’t gloat. Leave on a note of agreement, and arrange to talk again.

6 Give up.

Even if your first conversation has not gone well, be willing to return and speak again. If the conversation is important to you, express your desire to revisit the topic later.

The pandemic, the recession and disagreements about social equity are all challenges that should be the basis of Americans finding some common ground. But we must not completely rely on people in Washington or Raleigh to find reconciliation between different points of view. If we use good methods of dialogue, we may find that we have more in common with our family, neighbors and other fellow Americans than we usually think.

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