How to Talk with People you Disagree with

In the months leading up to and certainly following Brexit, we’ve seen a lot of polarisation in people’s views. Maybe it’s always been that way and we’re just vocalising it more now – but chickens and eggs aside, two camps definitely appear to be growing, creating tension and unrest in their wake.

Look across the pond to our American friends we see the same thing; groups forming, opposing sides pitting themselves against one another, hurling insults and accusations along the way. The sense of there being an ‘other’ feels that much greater now - and I suspect each of us, to varying degrees, is feeling the tug to separate ourselves into an ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Of course by doing this, whether we say it or just think it, we end up making generalisations. Individuals become ‘types’ of people that we can place into categories and ascribe other qualities and characteristics. “She voted ‘Leave’ – she must be a close-minded, ill-educated, flag-waving racist.” “He voted ‘Stay’- he must be a tree-hugging, terrorist-loving, ivory-tower-residing Commie.”

So the outcome, by its very nature, is divisive. Presumptions and judgements form on either side and, with increasing frequency, we see disagreement become hostility. 

This TED Talk, by adult educator, Elizabeth Lesser, considers this tendency to ‘otherise’ and suggests – in a very practical way – how we might cross such divisions or at least attempt to narrow them. Now, while we’re pinning labels on people, I think Ms Lesser herself would probably agree she’s more on the left-leaning, liberal side of things but if you’re more on the right-leaning, conservative side of things don’t let that put you off. The main substance of her points are for everyone:

The goal: To get to know one person from a group you may have negatively stereotyped

The rules: Don’t persuade, defend or interrupt – be curious, be real and listen

The content:    1) Share some of your life experiences

            2) What issues deeply concern you

           3) What have you always wanted to ask someone from the ‘other’ side

Underneath it all, most of us are just looking for a bit of hope, security and happiness among the fear, confusion and misery - we just tend to come at it from different angles. Think of this as re-aligning our angles a little.