It's the first day of the WFDD original Let’s Talk About It: Skills for Better Conversation. Today dialogue coach David Campt and WFDD’s David Ford lay the foundation for having productive talks with those we disagree with instead of shouting matches: selecting good conversation partners, retaining your focus, and cultivating moments of reflection.
On calming down:
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is just to take a couple of deep breaths before you respond. Another one is remind yourself of your connection with this person, and that you like them or love them, and fill up your heart with that. That can be really helpful. Another one is to remind yourself, that you're being given a gift by talking to somebody who has a very different point of view. If they're a liberal person, and you're conservative, you can say to yourself, "Wow, I'm getting to hear how liberals think." And that's a beautiful thing. I'm not necessarily going to agree, but I'm getting to hear that. You can remind yourself of some time that you wanted to be understood and imagine the other person wanting to be understood.
So part of the cultivation of your own self-regulation practices is figuring out what works better for you. And the good news is, is that since we're encountering people all the time, when you're having another conversation not about social issues, you can practice "what helps me listen better" because ultimately, you're trying to figure out what helps you listen and stay calm, better. And we all have conflicts around who should have taken out the garbage, who's going to wash the dishes. And so you can practice what helps you stay present and focused. And all of that works to enhance your own mindfulness. So when you're in that conversation with one of those people we specified, you can say, "Hey, I need to practice this, I need to do this," and you've done some work on yourself.
On selecting conversation partners:
What I suggest that people do is to think about people in their circle of contacts and think about six people they might want to talk with, and then evaluate them versus three criteria. The first is how generally open-minded are they — some people are more or less open-minded. How generally empathetic are they? That is on some level, how open-hearted they are, right? And then perhaps the most important is how much [does] this person trigger you? How much does their difference of opinion tend to trigger you? They're all important, but that criteria is really important because what is vital is that you stay centered. So after you come up with the six people you might want to think about, then I suggest that people rank those people in order of those three criteria. So how open-minded from most to least, how empathetic from most to least, and how much they trigger you, from least to most. And what I found is that when people do that analysis, who they should talk to first or second emerges, because you don't want to choose people who are the hardest to deal with as you're learning new dialogue skills. So that preliminary reflection before you even start doing dialogic methods is very helpful for people to do.
On responding to pushback:
Somebody might say, "I think relationships are tough enough, without talking about politics. We shouldn't talk about that." There's a whole set of ideas about how we should leave those things out. So you might get that. You might get "I don't think we can handle that." We might get "I have my ideas, what do I need to talk about those things with you [for]?" You might get that, and that might show that you've not chosen well, about open-mindedness, right? So I think that the way to respond to those things, again, is to emphasize your own desire to build a stronger connection with them. So there's a you and them aspect. And there's also the larger social goals of it being good for our community, for our nation, if people who like each other or love each other, can have conversation. So you might get that pushback, but I think that you want to be able to respond to that in the ways I just described. And if they're not willing to engage in an experiment about "can we talk further?" then you need to cross that person off the list, and move on to the next person.