I’ve been pondering all of the arguing and mic-dropping going on with political tensions and with world problems like poverty, violence, and discrimination. How is it that people with so much in common cannot hold a civil conversation with one another? How do we step out of the cycle of verbal bomb-throwing and find our way back to productive communication?
I watched my sister a few weeks ago talking to someone handing out literature on the street as we were shopping. They were trying to raise awareness for their particular cause, and they had their speech and talking points all prepared in advance. I confess that if I had been alone, I would have probably avoided eye contact and walked on by. If I had been feeling particularly open, I would have offered a half-smile and kept walking. I don’t like to hear talking points. They don’t impress me, and I always assume they are heavily weighted in favor of the cause being promoted.
My sister is awesome, though, and she stopped to talk with the person. When she heard the cause being promoted she asked about the sponsoring agency, she found a point of common interest, and she asked about the specific goal of this person on the street that day. They were looking for donations, and instead of making a commitment to donate right there, my sister asked for the online donation options and how to find more information about the organization sponsoring the fund drive. It took less than 3 minutes and it gave the person advocating the opportunity to share about their cause and allowed us to walk away without feeling obligated or shamed into supporting something we didn’t know much about.
I walked away from that encounter in awe of my sister’s ability to handle a potentially uncomfortable interaction in a way that everyone could feel good about. (Once again, I want to be my big sister when I grow up.)
I’ve spent the past several weeks pondering how I can interact with others in a similar way, whether I agree with them or not, whether I feel like the other person has an agenda, or even when I am the one with an agenda who wants to be heard. I think I’ve come up with some basic principles that can help.
Giving them the right to be heard. Allowing others to speak their minds gives us the ability to gauge whether they would be open to hearing our point of view. At times, stating our case when others are not open to listening falls into the category of casting our pearls before swine. If the person we are in conversation with cannot hear another perspective, anything we say, no matter how beautifully phrased, is going to sound like an attack to them. If they don’t know the value of our pearls, it feels exactly like someone throwing rocks.
We can begin by reframing our expectations based on what the other person is able to give. When we walk into a conversation,we have to recognize that we may not be in the same place as our conversation partner in our emotions, our understanding of the topic, or desire to find a solution.
Using words that frame our thoughts, that state our position, without attacking the other person offers our perspective without putting them on the defensive. Talking about what I am for does not have to include any discussion of others who do not agree. Try it out, can you talk about your passion or are you simply arguing against the passions of others?
Acceptance does not mean agreeing all the time. Acceptance means embracing those we are in relationship with in spite of disagreement. I can accept your good motivation, and assume the best about you and your cause even if I do not join in promoting it.
If you are as tired as I am of all the arguing and tension, why not add a little grace by listening, seeking understanding, offering mercy and love in spite of disagreement?
That could be very ReFreshing!