Rethinking Person-to-Person

Having engaged last week’s post about rethinking, I hope we’re all committing ourselves to adopting an ounce of humility and equal measure of flexibility in our thought patterns. Getting stuck in “being right” isn’t a healthy or profitable way to go through life.

But what should we do when encountering a family member, friend, colleague, or community member who comes across as particularly rigid? Can we hope for a breakthrough? Adam Grant, author of Think Again, offers the following advice:

Approach the discussion with mutual respect and a deep desire for mutual understanding. Treat the interaction as an exploration with two engaged dialog partners, not a battlefield with two sides. Think like scientists. Acknowledge the complexity of the issue and be willing to look at it from multiple points of view. See the shades of gray.

Be an active listener. As the author says, “Interacting with an empathetic, nonjudgmental, attentive listener makes people less anxious and defensive.” Show a genuine interest in their views and ask thoughtful questions on how they came to hold them. How would they translate their views into reality? Tease out the benefits and costs that they’d expect to realize. Be curious, not accusatory. Simply hold up a mirror and let them take a good look at what they see.

Acknowledge common ground. It does not weaken your argument or conclusions to take note of points of convergence. Rather, it demonstrates your willingness to concede valid points and expresses confidence in their thought processes. It also encourages them to consider yours.

Ask: “What facts or experience might change your mind?” This question probes the extent to which one’s dialog partners would be willing to be open-minded. It also reveals what they consider to be the center of gravity for their belief system. Should you choose to provide evidence, focus in on a handful of relevant points, not the entire collective of opposing research. Less is more. An avalanche of input dilutes your message and gives them the option of rejecting your point of view based on your least effective argument. Be attentive to your data sources, using only those deemed credible.

Take the temperature of the conversation periodically. If emotions start to run hot, press the pause button and redirect the conversation to the process. Be curious about the dynamic. Express your frustration, disappointment, sadness, ambivalence, etc. and invite your partner to do the same. See what you might do to ease the tension. If you’ve reached an impasses, try a new approach. For example:

  • Consider how our views might be different had we been born in a different time, place, or circumstances.
  • Take the other person’s point of view and make a strong argument in favor of it. Pick up the mantle with seriousness of purpose – as if you were trying to win a debate with substantive prize money attached to it.
  • Think about how this issue might be viewed from outer space? Or from 100 years hence?

Honor freedom of choice… respectfully. At the end of the day, you may agree to disagree. That’s OK. We each exercise choice over what we believe. Let’s also make the choice to value each other’s humanity.