There is so much going on these days that can create misunderstanding and conflict. Even with the best of intentions, we can easily make the situations that are bad enough even worse. While we have a right to our opinions, we need to be careful how we express those. I do believe that most people are reasonable and truly want to get along with others, yet how some opinions are voiced makes that difficult to do so. Let’s think about these things for a moment and consider communication that builds bridges.
The most upsetting happenings lately are racial, the latest of which is the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. I am not going to reiterate the details of Mr. Floyd’s death or those that came before his, including the death of Ahmaud Arbery. While there are troubling videos of both of these, you nor I were likely present when these occurred, and we do not really have all of the facts. What we do know from the videos is unacceptable. Hopefully we can agree to that. This is not a political statement; it is intended to be a humane one. If we can’t agree to that, you might want to stop reading at this point for none of the rest of what I will say will be important to you.
There is national unrest about racism. Whether or not you or I agree with the positions people are taking who are marching, whether or not we believe there is more to the stories than the ones being told, what is fact is that we are in a dark place in our country. We need to find common ground. How we communicate can help us find that common ground and build bridges of understanding or put us further away from it.
Another current issue is the different ways people are responding to COVID-19. Now that most states have lifted some restrictions and people are able to be out and about more, there are varied approaches to reentry, and value judgments about such. While I do not think this is as important of an issue as racism, it is an issue that is causing division between people. In particular, whether or not people are wearing masks has become a political issue to some people instead of a health and safety issue.
The information in a blog I posted recently on “Seek First to Understand” can be a helpful starting point to dealing with both of these current issues. But past the starting point, what do we do or say when our opinion is divergent from the one being expressed? How do we say what we want to say without making things worse? How can we communicate so we do not escalate the conflict? The following suggestions are all aimed at allowing us to disagree agreeably.
1. Remain calm, non-accusatory, and listen for what is being said. Also listen for what isn’t being said. If we totally focus on the other person and their comments, we do not have time or energy to respond in an adversarial manner.
2. Ask more questions, make less statements. Ask good questions, questions seeking information, not questions with answers to which you are poised to disagree. Using the words, “How” and “What,” in a question should reflect that the goal is to understand, not defend a particular point of view. Tone of voice is important also.
3. Make sure that your body language is non-threatening and reflective of wanting to truly hear the information the other person is giving you. Make sure there is consistency in what is said and how it is said, and that such is expressed in a positive manner.
4.While it is difficult to do so with issues that are very divisive, we should all do our best to allow others to think and believe differently, without judgement. We should accept the rights of others to have different opinions, and act in a manner reflective of a belief that the opinions of others should be accepted without rebuke.
Being able to communicate in a manner that builds bridges is not easy. It is far easier to state our divergent opinion and let the chips fall where they may. But when we do, we do not accomplish anything other than the momentary feel good behavior that we have when we dogmatically exert ourselves. That momentary feel good behavior does nothing to bring people together. Quite the contrary.
I prefer to act in a manner that builds bridges with others. How about you?