How to Speak to Others About Challenging Topics
The most difficult conversations to have are often the most important. In today’s polarized social climate, we are faced with many affronting beliefs and opinions that may cause us to withdraw and avoid talking about important subjects with others. While it’s important to protect yourself and know your limits, it’s equally important to speak openly about what matters to you and grow from mutually beneficial conversations.
Whether it’s discussing mental health, racial injustice or politics, there are several strategies you can use to talk about difficult subjects.
Speak to Learn, Not to Inform
You cannot enter any conversation projecting the idea that you are right and the other person is wrong. Even if their beliefs do not align with yours, people must enter a discussion feeling like they are equally entitled to their voice. This means you must be willing to ask questions and learn about the other person’s perspective rather than seeking to defend or enforce your own.
The most difficult part of this, of course, arises when we are faced with individuals who hold hateful, limiting or discriminating beliefs that contradict our core values. Listening to someone’s beliefs does not mean you affirm them in any way; consider it due diligence. You cannot bring about change without understanding the reasoning and rationale behind someone’s beliefs.
Some conversations will never go according to plan, especially when the topics carry a lot of emotional weight for both parties. Before you even start talking, have boundaries in place that you will stick to during the course of the conversation. You do not have to tolerate any kind of verbal assault, character attacks or harmful words thrown at you. If you encounter this type of behavior, you are allowed to leave the conversation without justifying yourself.
Lay out some ground rules for communication. Let the person you’re speaking to know that you genuinely want to hear what they have to say, and make sure each of you are open and willing to converse. Avoid getting drawn into heated arguments and put your own mental well-being above someone else’s aggression and reactivity.
Don’t View Disagreement as Failure
This may sound counterproductive, but most challenging topics require more than one conversation. Change is an ongoing process. We have to revisit our own views and others’ again and again to see how they’ve evolved and how we may have been wrong in the past. Be open to growth and understand that it’s also okay if you are not able to ever see eye-to-eye with another person. Set out with the intention to learn and benefit yourself rather than worry about changing another person’s mindset.
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