Tips for Getting Through a Tough Conversation
By Valerie Rice September 27, 2020
I think by now we can all agree that this year has been intense. Rampant illness, natural disasters, protests, riots, shootings, political drama, and now an election. Add to that the fact that we have been shut indoors with sensationalized news streams while being forced to adapt to an entirely new lifestyle. It’s no wonder we are tearing each other apart. As much as we may want to avoid talking about these things, it no longer seems possible. I suppose we could all take a vow of silence, or only talk to people we agree with, but neither one of these options is particularly healthy. So what can you do? Most of us were not raised to “talk politics” in polite society, so it always ends in a verbal battle to the (metaphorical) death. Luckily, I have a few pointers to help you navigate these conversational battle fields.
As obvious as this may seem, this is often the hardest thing to do. We are a passionate people, especially when it comes to politics or religion. The US was founded on revolution, rioting, and righteous anger. Without these, we wouldn’t exist, and that spirit is alive and well. Unfortunately it no longer has a place in our daily conversations, it has become maladaptive, and does us more harm than good. Besides, studies have shown that all communication stops when anger flares. So the second you (or they) get angry and start yelling, there is no longer a point in trying. To quote my teenager “Ho do I kep calm when the stupid &$^%# won’t listen?” I’m glad you asked. The first thing you do is: Shut. Up. Yes, I said it, because I am that kind of mom. Just because you’re mad doesn’t mean you are right, and chances are that anything coming out of your mouth when you are angry is something you are going to regret. So keep it closed, take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Here try this: Take a deep breath, filling your lungs as much as you can. At the top of your breath, when your lungs are full, take one more tiny sip of air. Now let it out slowly and as controlled as you can. Do you feel better? You should, and if not, do it a few more times. Controlling our breath is just one way to stay grounded and control our anger.
Listen to Understand
Most people who are talking about subjects they are passionate about are only listening so that they can respond. Real communication happens when you listen to understand. Professionals call this active listening and it is much more than just hearing words. The first thing you need to do to be an active listener is pay attention; to their words, tone, and their body language. You also need to use your body. Turn toward them, make eye contact, keep your arms uncrossed, and so on. You can practice this in a mirror, it might even be fun! Try out different stances and facial expressions until you find a few that you can tell are of someone listening. After all, most human communication is done without words. How do I know (drumroll please)…Science! Okay, you got the look down. Now let them finish without interruption. You will probably be tempted to cut them off at some point. Don’t. Not only is it rude, but it shows you are not willing to listen. When they are done, repeat what they said. I don’t mean word for word, you are not a recording device, but summarize. For example, if one of my high school kids comes to me to complain about a teacher, which they do almost daily, I often respond with “ It sounds Mr. Smith was not fully explaining his expectations..” or whatever the case may be. I skip over the sear-word-soup and get to the main point. Moving on After all this, when you have shown them that you are, indeed, listening and understanding, you may respond.
Watch you Nonverbal Cues
Remember how I mentioned that most communication has nothing to do with words? I wasn’t done with that one, which means more mirror practice for you! So we got body language down right? RIGHT? Quick review.maintain good eye contact, check. Don’t cross your arms, check. Appropriate gestures…don’t flip them off…check. Now smile. What? Why? Because it affects your tone of course.It is a lot harder to sound angry with a smile on your face.Unless, of course your jaw is clenched. If it is, I suggest you go back to the whole breathing thing.Remember, all communication stops when anger is involved. Try it out, use a mirror, or your kid, or your BFF. Practice different postures, xpressions, and vocal tones. Try out the active listening. These are skills that take time to master, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it perfect the first time.
Focus and Stay Honest
This is as important as staying calm or being an active listener. Nobody I know appreciates being lied to. In fact, there is a whole bunch of internet drama surrounding what’s true and what’s not. Election campaigns are notorious for mud slinging, or lying about and exaggerating the opponents worst qualities. Quick selfcheck here: how many people are perfect? I’m not. If you just said you are, you might want to review that statement. Stay focused on the topic, not the person. Oftentimes we are tempted to lash out and attack the other person we disagree with on a personal level, usually insulting their intelligence or their appearance, and this has nothing to do with the topic at hand.. Plus it’s just plain mean. So focus. We are talking to another person, probably someone we care about, and calling them a stupid fat neanderthal is not going to convince them that you are right. Use facts when presenting your argument. If you are opposed to abortion, do NOT say that a bunch of doctors are killing babies right before they are born. DO say that your religious beliefs tell you thatabortion is a sin and you do not personally believe it should be legal. If you are pro choice, do NOT tell the other person they are enslaving women, because that is NOT true. Instead try saying that only 1% of abortions happen after 13 weeks of pregnancy and before that time the embryo is just a small group of cells. But how do you know what’s true? Again, glad you asked. There are several fact checking websites you can, and should, use to verify your information. Doing research is fun (well, for me) and can broaden your horizons. But don’t just stop at one site, use 2 or 3 to make sure your information is accurate.
Finally, the most important thing to do is ADMIT WHEN YOU ARE WRONG. This Is pretty self explanatory, and really REALLY hard. But be the bigger person. This, and all the other tips, will show that you are not only mature, but willing to learn. There is no shame in changing your mind. In fact, being able to change your opinion when presented with evidence is necessary for growth; both intellectually and as a person. Good luck out there guys!