Part of the reason we don't engage with people that don't share our views is because we fear confrontation. You can have constructive conversations that further understanding and avoid confrontation by following these simple tips...

How do I start the conversation?

Reaching out can be scary when you don't know what response you will get, but remember, the friend or family member you are contacting cares for you (and you for them).  More often than not, you'll get a positive (perhaps surprising) response.

Do

  • Make it clear that their relationship is important to you
  • Be genuine and open 
  • Be clear that your objective is to understand, not debate different views
  • Find common ground (i.e. fatigue of negative rhetoric)
  • Suggest a conversation using Facetime, Skype or other video chat
  • Let them know about Burst! and point them to the Tips for Constructive Conversations

Don't

  • Insult or belittle their views
  • Demand a call – leave it up to them to decide whether or not to talk

Sample note:

Hi Joan,

You've seen through my Facebook posts that I've been pretty upset by this election season and specifically the divisive rhetoric coming from both sides. I've really appreciated your likes and comments on my posts. 

Ultimately, I think the problem is that we've stopped talking to one another. We've avoided conversations with friends and family we don't agree with and the result has been diminished understanding and empathy for one another.

I'm as guilty as anyone and want to reverse this!

As a first step, I'd like to have a conversation with you. I *think* we may differ on our political views and I'd like to learn about what issues that are most important to you and why. I'd also like to give you the opportunity to ask me the same. My goal is to listen and understand, not debate or convince one another. 

If you are willing, I commit to making this a productive conversation. There are some great tips/guidelines on the Burst! website that may be useful to review. (Burst! is a site that encourages people of all political persuasions to reach out and talk to one another in order to unite our country). If it is okay with you, I'd also like to post what I learn from our conversation on the Burst! Facebook group. I won't name you by name, but say I spoke with my family member (or whatever feels comfortable to you).

Please let me know if you are willing to chat and we can set up at time to video conference. I'd really like that.

Love, Jim

How do I have a constructive conversation?

Bottom line, remember that you are speaking with someone you care about. They are a person, not an issue. Listen, understand and avoid becoming argumentative. Here are some additional tips to keep your conversation constructive:

  • Speak on Facetime, Skype or another video chat service
  • Start the conversation by saying thank you and catching up a little about personal things 
  • Reinforce your intentions to understand, not convince, the other
  • Avoid talking about people, talk about issues and how they affect each other personally
  • Establish some guidelines...for example:
    • Listen respectfully, without interrupting
    • Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others' views (don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking)
    • Commit to learning, not debating -- comment in order to share information, not to persuade
    • Avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language
    • Avoid  assumptions about the other person
  • Respond with more questions than comments
  • Reflect back what you are hearing (i.e. "It sounds like you are concerned about security and the safety of your family")
  • Download and have both people fill out the Burst! conversation worksheet to collect your thoughts ahead of the conversation

How do I end the conversation?

 

You can end the conversation whenever you want. If it gets too intense, feel free to gracefully exit. Either way, make sure to say thank you and appreciate the other person's willingness to speak to you.

If you need to end the conversation early

It's okay. Don't just hang up or cut it off abruptly. End the discussion by saying something like...

"You know, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about these things. I hope we can continue this conversation over time, but it is a little too much for me right now. Would you mind if we end this discussion for now?"

If you are wrapping up a constructive conversation

Thank the person for sharing and listening. Acknowledge that it wasn't an easy conversation to have and you appreciate their openness! 

Also, tell them about Burst!

  • Ask if you can post some of the things you learned on the Burst! Facebook group and ask how they would like to be referenced (i.e. my aunt Jean/a family member/someone important to me)
  • Encourage them to reach out to someone they know and have a similar conversation!