A Guide to Better Conversations


Once upon a time people could disagree with each other and remain on civil, even friendly terms.

Ahh the good old days!

It was a time before social media and biased media outlets set up echo chambers online and prevented anyone with a dissenting opinion from saying anything.  The year was 2004, just 14 years ago, when facebook launched, changing the world and the way we communicate with one another forever.

But the death of civility was already well underway by then.

In 1949 the FCC implemented the Fairness Doctrine.  This was the rule that required holders of federal broadcasting licenses to present controversial issues in a manner that was “honest, equitable and balanced”.  The rule required that stations present these contrasting views to ensure that citizens were exposed to a variety of viewpoints and given the opportunity to make informed decisions.  The FCC removed the rule in 1987 and this decision has been widely considered as the main contributing factor to the increased polarization of political views over the last 30 years.

The removal of the Fairness Doctrine made it possible for cable news and other broadcasters to become echo chambers and the private mouth piece of special interest groups.  The internet and social media has only served to make it even easier for these groups to amplify there voice and silence their critics.

It’s with that in mind that I want to give you two tactics for engaging in better conversations with people of opposing viewpoints.  It is my hope that by having better conversations we can return to a time when a disagreement, even one over which political party we plan to vote for, won’t end in name calling and broken relationships.

Tactic One –  Begin your questions with “How”. 

How is less threatening than why.  How did you learn this?  How did you come to this conclusion?  How do you feel about this?

By starting with how you show genuine interest in the other person’s point of view and give them an opportunity to explain their position without judgement.  It also gives them a chance to think about their answers a bit more and maybe start to see the flaws in their arguments without you saying anything.

Tactic Two – Go deeper with follow up questions. 

Once you have people explaining the position with a non-threatening how question you can go deeper and get more pointed with follow ups like based on where and what.  Where did you get that idea? What makes you think that?  Can you explain that?

Try to stay away from why if you can.  Why can be a conversation killer because it puts people on the defensive, the most common response to a why question is something along the line of “because and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise”.

By asking open ended questions and avoiding direct conversation killers that start with why both parties to a conversation tend to feel herd and sometimes even begin to reconsider their opinions.  The government can’t regulate the kinds of things we see on-line and they can’t force private companies to offer balanced view points, that ship sailed a long time ago. It’s up to us to be as well informed as possible and the best way to do that is to start asking better questions.

So how did you find that?

 

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