"The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace" Carlos Santana.
It has been really interesting watching postings on my Facebook feed in relation to the EU referendum and the subsequent Brexit.
Feelings are running really high, and in some cases are leading to angry, judging and blaming arguments and accusations. Some friends are falling out and un-friending each other. Perhaps it will be a long time till they reconnect, maybe they never will.
I want to explore some of what happens when we find ourselves in a volatile conversation like this, maybe with somebody at work, in the pub or especially somebody in our family. It could be over anything that the person feels really strongly about.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
We listen through our own filters - our values, our beliefs, what we feel is important. We get caught up in a thought about how we feel in response to what we are hearing and what we want to say to respond.
We interrupt, talk over them, try to reason or counter argue our point. This has the effect of creating frustration, not feeling heard. A person not feeling heard will simply get louder and keep repeating the message that is so important to them.
We are on different sides of the argument. Each side has a position and is defending that position. This creates a distance between the two parties and an argument or debate from position can never be won.
If we can listen with an open heart and an open mind and from a place of letting go of needing to know, we can begin to understand what is important to the other, in a way that helps them to feel deeply heard and acknowledged.
“All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.”
― Alexandre Dumas-fils
We generalise. For example "British football fans are hooligans"! All Brexit voters are racist.
Generalisations are lazy language and can be inflammatory. If we are in the category being generalised about, we will push back, hard.
If you hear a generalisation ask the person to be more specific.
Two simple questions you might ask are;
'in what way are (for example) British football fans hooligans?'
'Are there any British football fans who aren't hooligans'?
This gets you and the speaker, more information about what it is that they mean, I helps the person to feel heard and understood, helps them clarify their thinking and it keeps you both out of position..
We challenge the person and not their view.
On facebook I have seen people say things like, 'that is rubbish, you are a moron!'
This is attacking behaviour at the level of identity and will certainly cause deep hurt and counter attack.
Challenge the viewpoint or the behaviour, not the person themselves.
Questions you might ask are
'I am keen to get a better understanding about why you feel so strongly about this. Please can you explain'?
'What are the key things that really matter to you here'?
'What is it about this that is so important to you'?
And in response, you might learn something and get a new perspective and you may not. You might then say, 'I see it differently, can I share what really matters to me about this....'
Or I agree with the part you just said about x. Where I differ is y. This is healthy debate and is to be welcomed.
Instead of saying 'that's rubbish', say instead, 'I don't agree with your point of view'
Instead of saying 'you are a moron for saying that', instead say 'I don't feel that comment is helpful'
We don't Own our stuff
We use 'you' language not 'I' language. For example 'you are wrong' instead of 'I don't believe you are right'.
'You made me really angry when you said that', instead of 'I felt really angry when you said that'.
We don't accept responsibility when we get it wrong.
If you are the person that says 'you are a moron', you might then say, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that, it wasnt fair. What I meant to say was that I don't agree with what you just said'.
It is much easier to immediately take ownership and retract the comment than it is to repair a damaged relationship later.
Some examples of when people have worked this out well on Facebook are;
' I don't want to fall out with you over this, can we agree to differ'?
'I am happy to take any of my friends that voted differently to me out for a beer so that I can explain why it was important to me to vote the way I did'.
An extreme example of where it hasn't gone well is an example of a person threatening to disclose secrets on line about people whose view she feels strongly about. That threatens trust and without trust there can never be real resolution and understanding.
There has never been a more important time than now to build bridges and to have conversations based on tolerance, and understanding. And for me, out of that comes compassion and a sense of shared humanity and love.
If you want to find out how to gain confidence in having sensitive conversations, please ask about my courses, How to Have a Courageous Conversation, Assertiveness and Enhancing your Communication Skills with NLP, or why not sign up for a coaching session with me
The perfect way is without difficulty
About the author
I love learning new stuff, I get a real thrill from making new connections with and between things.