Today it’s the 12th Let's Talk About It: Skills for Better Conversation episode in our 12-part series, where we discover productive ways to discuss thorny issues with folks we disagree with. If you’ve missed previous episodes you’ll find them here where you can also find worksheets for many of these topics. In the meantime, here are the proverbial CliffsNotes for an entire year of Let’s Talk About It.
On pre-conversation to do lists:
Start your dialoguing practice with baby steps by finding conversation partners you know who are able to be empathetic and who share the same kind of conversational goals. They may be diametrically opposed to you on the issue, but they want to get better at conversation. Also on your pre-conversation checklist: check yourself first. Because your perceptions might not be accurate. Remind yourself that you have a right to your own feelings, and you have a right to report your own feelings. Clarify what your request is to the other person, but realize that that request may not be met.
On the apologetic non-apology:
For example, “You know what, Bob, last time we spoke, I talked over you a lot and I wasn't doing a very good job of listening. Is it okay with you at this time moving forward, I do a little more listening, a little less talking?” The key to that is to not necessarily say I'm sorry, because that sets up a transaction in the other person's head. Just say you are committed to a different type of behavior going forward.
On the importance of stories over facts:
Spitting out a bunch of facts you’ve picked up on MSNBC or Fox News — or even The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times — is a lot less persuasive than sharing a personal experience you've had that speaks directly to the topic at hand. It’s also important to get the person you're talking with to share one as well.
On forming connections:
The critical thing about connection is that you have to want to make a connection. And you do so by cultivating your own curiosity about other people's point of view, as well as compassion for the fact that people have other points of view. They too are children of the universe just like I am. I want to understand that perspective and people feel that interest if you have it inside.
On collaborating versus lecturing:
This shift is that you're looking for the truth together. Now part of that, though, is to boost your own compassion for the person to get yourself in the mindset of being a collaborator. So for example, one of things we’ve talked about is the use of compassion boosters. What I try to do is to think of the other person I'm in a disagreement with as a vulnerable child, because at some point they were, and what that does is open up my heart to them in a way that's important to bring a different spirit to the conversation.
On the four Cs:
Curiosity, compassion, but also candor and courage. Candor: Be prepared to reveal something about yourself that's really meaningful. That takes courage. It takes courage to begin these conversations in the first place.
On being persuasive:
There's a weird kind of Zen thing that goes on, which is if you want to maximize your persuasive power, you have to minimize how much you want to persuade. It's really contradictory. You have to have the focus on trying to just understand the other person. And maybe secondly, to be understood. And if you let go of trying to change them, you're more likely to actually change them.
On ABCs (agreement before challenges):
Agreement goes a long way towards forging connection with the other person. By agreeing to at least a small part of what they're saying, you are showing compassion, understanding, respect, and a willingness to listen, all of which really sets the table for a positive discussion and builds trust. Resist the temptation to try to dispense your best wisdom and win the argument. And instead, try to find some point of agreement, whether it's small, or large.
On the R.A.C.E. method:
Reflect, ask, connect and expand. Reflect on what you hope to accomplish in the conversation first. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions to get at the personal stories behind their opinions. Connect with your conversation partner by listening closely and sharing a personal story of your own. And then expand the conversation to present the other person with a different perspective. And even the connect step involves a sharing of a story. And it's a story as we've discussed, that agrees with their point of view, to some extent, before you try to use a personal story, to expand their thinking, to invite them to something different. Because you've calmed down, you ask questions, you try to connect, and you try to expand their thinking. And done that all through stories.