For the longest time people always have find it difficult to communicate or break through to communicate peacefully if they have different choices or views.
Let’s face it: communicating with people who have values, beliefs, and backgrounds different from our own is often traumatic, sometimes exasperating, and occasionally even threatening. Yet research shows again and again that contending with diverse opinions and backgrounds makes us enhanced decision makers, more creative problem solvers.
So how can we keep our resolution to spurt our bubbles and deal with difference?
Let me suggest a conversation technique called CLARIFY. The letters in CLARIFY stand for: Check your motivations, Listen, Ask, Repeat, use I-statements, Find common ground, and adopt a “Yet” mindset. You can use the CLARIFY method to discuss any kind of dissimilarity, including political, religious, ethnic, class, age, or gender differences, as well as everyday differences of opinion.
Here’s how to use CLARIFY when discussing your differences with another person:
- Check your motives. Why do you want to have a conversation with this individual? If your purpose is to change their mind, humiliate them, or show them that they are wrong, then avoid the talk. You and your conversation partner will likely be so focused on guarding yourselves and subduing each that you will overall fail to listen or learn.
As an alternative, approach your conversation as an anthropologist trying to understand someone deeply dissimilar than you. Who is this person? Why do they think, feel, trust, value, and act the way they do? Even if you know some of these replies, give the other side a chance to share their heads and hearts. It will make them more open to reach from your side of the aisle.
- Listen carefully.Intent to understand what the chatterer means and feels, not just the words they are saying. Paying close attention shows respect, which makes the person feel less protective and defensive of his idea.
- Ask open-ended questions.Start your questions with “how” or “why” to elicit deeper answers that go beyond “yes” or “no.” Requesting open-ended questions will not only help you better understand the other person’s perspective, but also establish your genuine interest in exchanging information—not just winning your point. Here are some examples:
“How does that make you feel?”
“Why do you think you react that way?”
“How do you reach that conclusion?”
- Repeat what the person has said, your analysis of what they mean, and how you think they are feeling. This not only makes the person feel heard and understood, but also gives you time and space to consider whatyou feel. Some helpful examples include:
“So what I hear you saying is…”
“I understand how you feel…”
“Let me make sure I understand: you believe that…”
- Use I-statementsto direct your thoughts, feelings, and values without showing them as universal truths or attacks on the other person. These “I” phrases include: I feel, I believe, I think, I have read,and I learned in school.
Consider how I-statements can turn inflammatory statements into inviting ones:
no: “Science shows that race is a myth, and anyone who doesn’t believe this is an ignorant bigot.”
yes: “I’ve read many scientific studies suggesting that race is a social construction, not a biological fact.”
no: “People suffer because God is punishing them.”
yes: “I learned from the Bible that people suffer because God is punishing them.”
no: “You are a sexist pig.”
yes: “When you say that women are inferior, I feel angry.”
- Find common ground, especially common values, and point it out often. Try these phrases:
“I sense we share the desire to do what is right.”
“I appreciate your honesty.”
“It seems we both care deeply about our children’s futures.”
- Adopt a “yet” mindset:Be an visionary. You may not understand each other yet,but keep chatting and listening. You are at least guaranteed to learn more about different viewpoints. You are also more likely to grow understanding and a way to get along than if you never tried this conversation. You could just avoid discussing your differences with other people altogether. But our failures to reach out across political, gender, racial, ethnic, regional, age, and class divides are deepening the fractures in our nation and world. This year, do your part for world peace and your own personal development. Practice your cross-cultural conversation skills, and let bipartisanship begin with you.