How to Talk to Someone You Disagree With

I am a professional mediator and collaborative family law attorney. Basically, I help divorcing couples communicate better so they can reach the best resolutions for their families. I help them stay out of court and stay in control of their lives. It is a pretty neat gig.

My career and education have focused on communication and conflict resolution. I trained in alternate dispute resolution in law school and competed on the negotiations team all three years. (Yes, that’s a thing). My teammate and I consistently ranked in the top five for our region. I learned a lot and was very fortunate to have an outstanding coach and mentor who shared his wisdom with me and made me a much better problem solver than I ever would have been on my own.

Before law school, I studied communication. I studied how small groups communicate, how families communicate, and how large organizations communicate. I studied rhetoric and public discourse. I studied conflict cycles and resolution strategies. I graduated first in my class. They gave me a big medal for that achievement and I felt silly wearing it.

After law school, I was trained in the collaborative process. The collaborative approach brings dignity, respect, and integrity to divorce. In my mind, it is a much healthier process and it results in better, more durable agreements. Collaborative resonated so deeply with me that I have dedicated my career to fostering this model in Montana. It worked, and I can say that I am very proud of what I do for a living and how I have helped families. If someone gave me a medal for that achievement, I would not feel silly wearing it.

All this is to say that I am a good problem solver. I am good at helping people communicate. I am good at building bridges and repairing scorched earth.

With these skills in mind, I have given the issue of respectful discourse and disagreement a lot of thought. Happily, I have distilled my professional tips down into a few easy steps. I’d like to share them with you in case you, too, want to learn some simple tools for better discourse. I hope you find them useful.

How to Talk to Someone You Disagree With

  1. Sit down with the person who has differing views from you. This is best done in person over a beverage or a meal. Social media sites are an awful way to approach this task and should be avoided at all cost.
  2. Look at the person with whom you are sitting. Are they human? If so, consider the fact that they have feelings, fears, and values that are similar to yours. Like you, they are trying to survive and enjoy life. Try to keep their humanity in mind.
  3. Begin discourse. This means you will take turns speaking. Do not attempt to speak over or louder than the other person. Refer to point No. 2 as often as necessary.
  4. When opening your mouth to form words, only speak if the words you intend to use are productive. It helps to think before talking. Try asking yourself, “How would I feel if someone said that to me?” If the answer is “bad,” reconsider the sounds you are about to make and select different noise clusters.
  5. If you cannot formulate conversation that is respectful, stop talking. While this appears to be an advanced maneuver, with practice you will master this skill in no time. While your mouth is resting, try engaging your ears, heart, and brain in its place.
  6. While shocking, take note that the goal of this discourse is not to change the other person’s mind. It is to create connection and search for areas of commonality. It may even be an opportunity to learn something new! Don’t worry, learning new things will not harm you. Plenty of people have survived it before you and go on to live healthy, well-adjusted lives.
  7. At the end of the conversation, thank the other person for sharing their time (or food and/or beverage) with you. Perhaps offer to talk about something else, or switch activities altogether. If you have followed the above, parting should be an enjoyable, positive experience. If it is not, consider that you need more practice with these skills.

Over time, you, too can become a human capable of meaningful connection. I hope this guide serves you well in creating connection in your life. If you get stuck, a good rule of thumb is to consider if you would talk to your grandmother, postmaster, or grocery clerk in the tone or context you are considering. If the answer is “no,” seal your lips until a better moment finds you.

Good luck and best wishes!

Give ‘Em Hell

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