If you’re lucky enough to have 100% ‘wokeness’ in your network of family and friends, then firstly WOW and a big YAY for you! However, many of us are still living and dealing with people in our lives that really just don’t ‘get it’ yet.
You’ll know the ones…there’s that one friend that refuses to recycle anything and throws absolutely everything away, like an entitled lunatic who thinks the world is completely made-up for their own convenience. Then there’s Grandpa, who at every family dinner can be relied upon to pipe up with some seriously horrific racist remarks, and you’re debating whether to just cancel them, if only they weren’t your family!
Here’s a few tips to try out, hopefully before it has to come to that..
1. Agree to Disagree and Stay Open-Minded
Firstly, absolutely everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No matter how abhorrent we may find that opinion, it is still their prerogative. This may be super hard to swallow, but if we all thought the same thing, the world would be a boring place. So, annoying as it may be that they don’t agree to what seems so inherently obvious and ‘right’ to us, we do need to allow others to have their own opinions. We don’t have to like it, but we do need to allow it. Forcing opinions on others doesn’t work as you have no doubt already found out! Plus, you will always come across people in your life with differing opinions to you, it’s unavoidable, so you may as well get used to it.
Cancelling them may be appropriate in some (highly unusual) cases; when destructive or toxic, however, generally we can’t go around cancelling every single person that has the slightest difference in opinion to us, especially when we are closely related to them. Of course some people will never change their mind and attacking them or being self-righteous about your own views is unlikely to change anything. When you really think about it, in a lot of ways, it actually makes you as close-minded as them. So always try to stay open-minded and be willing to discuss ideas with an open heart and mind.
2. Give Up What You ‘Already Know’
Next step is to give up what you think you already know about this person and about their thinking. You may have decided that your grandpa is racist and a belligerent old fool. And you may well be right! But that is not going to help you if you are going into an interaction thinking like that. You’ll need to really ‘give up’ everything you thought you knew about him, and instead go into the discussion with a ‘beginners mind’. Start the conversation with genuine curiosity about his thoughts and beliefs, and a commitment to understanding him better. If you go in to it trying to prove your own point of view, you will likely end up in a battle of wills.
3. Listen, Like.. Really Listen!
Thirdly, it’s important to really, really, really really LISTEN. It may be hard to do, when you feel like you already know that you seriously disagree with this person (if so, go back to point 2 again). However, you’ll want to make this person feel like they have truly been heard, and that you really do ‘get’ what they are saying. Obviously you are not agreeing with it, but you do want to show that you at least respect a different opinion to your own, which is an entirely different thing to agreeing with it. There is a basic human need to be understood, or gotten, and if you can give them that gift, then you have a greater chance of opening their minds to new possibilities.
4. Be Curious – Ask Open-Ended Questions
In order to do this next step, keep coming from this place of curiosity and literally try now to deplete them of ALL their opinions on the subject, so that they get EVERYTHING out of their system, with nothing left unsaid. Do your absolute best to be interested, so you can see the whole trajectory of what has led them to their thinking. Ask open ended questions like ‘How did that make you feel?”, Why might that have happened? Can you tell me more about that? Have them really go deep into their own story, and even have them recant EXACTLY what was said. You really want to try and get out all the facts of the situation, (which is often very different to the ‘made up’ or circumstantial stories). And don’t forget people love to talk about themselves and their opinions! So let them!
5. Don’t Get Drawn into a Fight
This may be a super tough conversation to have, and there will be times when they may try really hard to draw you in to their opinion, which could push your buttons. But stay firm and inquisitive, resist getting drawn into fighting back. Simply ‘be in their world’ and stay curious. They may be telling you for instance ‘blue is red”. So instead of saying “no! Red is blue!!” you’ll want to say something like “oh really? Why do you think so, have you experienced blue as red?.. what was it like for you …?, how did that make you feel, what did you say/do? etc. Tell me more about that? Note: be careful here! You will have to do this without any sarcasm and judgemental tones in your voice.
6. Play It ALL Back To Them
Once you have gotten the whole extent of it, then you can begin to re-play back to them what they have said and their take on things. This shows them that you have truly understood it. You have spent a good while listening to them by now, so if you have really listened and managed to temporarily shut down all your judgement, you should be able to say some basic things that show them that you have understood their position. Something like “I really get why you think blue is red because… (insert whatever the ‘actual’ situation they describe is). It’s important not to exaggerate or be sarcastic or spiteful in your response. Your job is to just ‘get it’ and reiterate it to them in a way that shows you understood what they have said.
7. Understand Their Experience
Try now to also get their whole ‘experience’, to understand how the world looks from their viewpoint. The thing is, until we really listen to others, we do not even know what they are dealing with. On the surface it can look like someone is simply belligerent, but when we go deeper we may find that they are actually feeling something else like; hurt, misunderstood, betrayed etc. This is what to listen for in how they’re speaking. When you can hear it, then you can relay their experience back to them and show them that you understand them. You will only hear it if you are truly listening. Often they may then be more open to looking at things in a new way and this may be where you can begin to see a shift in their thinking.
8. Acknowledge and Thank Them
The next step is to thank them for being open and honest about their views and their experiences. This helps that person feel validated for sharing and that they were listened to. If they have shared anything vulnerable during this time, it’s important to acknowledge this and thank them for being open with you. (Remember – You don’t have to agree with them to thank and acknowledge them).
9. Ask Questions That Make Them Think Outside The Box
Next, stay curious and ask them some more questions that help them to start to think outside of the box. You might begin sentences with; “have you considered…?”, Do you think? Really have them question their own point of view. Here, you will basically have to continue to turn off your need to be right about your own point of view! As having an agenda will not work! If you out try these techniques, you might just find that a person changes their whole opinion, all by themselves, without any further intervention from you! It really is amazing to watch someone talk themselves around full circle. There can be amazing transformations available for people who feel fully understood for the first time.
10. Trust yourself to say the right thing
Once you have gotten their whole experience and they feel you have fully listened to them, the likelihood will be that you can now begin to offer up some of your own views and counter arguments, they may even ask for them! Whatever you do, don’t constantly be waiting for the chance to chime in during the whole conversation! You can also ask them, ‘would you like to hear my thoughts?”. You will actually know what to say if you simply trust yourself and listen to the person first, before deciding what needs to be said. The thing is, until we really listen to others, we do not know 100% know what they are dealing with.
Even when someone is angry, they can be coming from a deep upset that hasn’t been validated. This is what you have to listen for in what they say and how they are saying it. Once they feel listened to, they will likely be a lot more willing to now listen to you!
Remember, you always have the right to your own opinion and the right to stick to it. Listening to, and acknowledging others does not in anyway depreciate your own stand point.
And..of course, none of this may work to change or open up their minds to new thinking, however, it could potentially begin a series of new conversations that were not possible before. It may even be the start of a journey to better understanding each other, and who knows – with the use of better communication, anything may be possible!
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