These days, a lot of tension hangs in the air. From the pandemic to politics, there is no shortage of topics to strain relationships. Whether we are struggling with a family member who holds an opposing political view or a challenging client, we all need tools in the box to address these moments of difficulty.
No magic formula exists for depolarizing our dialogues. In fact, a tool that works in one situation may not work in another. To depolarize long-standing issues can take months or years, but we must start somewhere.
Here are a few options for talking with a relative or colleague on an opposing view. I will be sharing more in the coming months.
- Prevent reactivity in yourself will help prevent it in others. People tend to respond in kind to charged behavior. Write down your potential triggers before a sensitive conversation. If one of those comes up, pause 2-4 seconds before responding. Say to the other person, “Let me think on that for a second” or “I’m just processing what you said.”
- If speaking with a family member, try the Reverse I Love You, But Instead of “I love you but you have this horrible view” try “I cannot support that policy but I respect/love you.” Reversing the order avoids negating the “I love you!”
- Clarify what you are hearing using phrases like “It sounds like…” or “I just want to clarify…” When people feel heard, they let their defenses down and allow room for the rest of the conversation.
- Know your purpose. Every depolarizing conversation may have a different goal. Be clear on yours. Do you want to build trust? Educate? Persuade? Understand? Preserve a relationship? Adapt your techniques to that purpose. (To learn how to speak to different purposes, ask us about our Depolarizing Conversations workshops.)
- If discussing a sensitive issue at work in a meeting, consider doing some pre-work such as sending an agenda, meeting with people one-on-one beforehand, and using timed go-arounds to ensure all voices are heard. Also allow for reflection time in the meeting, giving people about 2 minutes to write down their thoughts on sensitive questions first before responding in the group.
Depolarization does not necessarily mean agreement, unity, or complicity. It can, however, preserve friendships, keep situations from escalating, foster connection, and ultimately create shifts.
Start small and don’t lose hope.