It seems to be getting worse: positions are becoming more entrenched and polarised. We’re either on this side or that side. We can’t be in the middle anymore. We can’t be undecided, or open to change.
And with that comes arguments, disagreements, falling out. Recently I’ve heard about family members who’ve fallen out over their beliefs around covid: mask wearing, lockdowns and vaccines. Before that it was family members, friend and colleagues taking sides and falling out over Brexit. And immigration. And politics, of course.
How can we stop this in our own lives? It is easy to get fixed in your opinion (because it is the right one after all – or so you think); and then surround yourself with like-minded people. Social media is an echo chamber: the more you read on one viewpoint, the more likes and comments you give it, the more you will be presented by more of the same. You will never understand the other side until you listen for it, and listen to it.
Here’s three little words that you can use to encourage someone to share their thoughts without being defensive:
Help me understand
This short phrase is non-confrontational, disarming, and shows that you really want to listen to their experience, opinion and side of the story. It will relax them and make them more open because you’re not about to pounce with an argument (and if you were, STOP!). It will then make them more willing to listen to your experience, opinion and understanding.
You may still end the conversation on different sides, but at least it won’t have ended in a shouty disagreement or falling out. You might still disagree, but at least you will both understand the other side a little better. One of you may even change their opinion or at least shift a little towards your thinking.
Help me understand.
Try it, next time you are talking to someone with a different opinion, and you’ll see how they open up and talk to you.