Changing Minds Begins with Understanding – An Empathetic Approach

We find ourselves in an explosive time. People not simply putting forth their own opinions, but doing so with a violent force. Groups of like-minded people banding together to insist that everyone get on board with their opinions. And if someone actually opposes them, that those who differ are in some way an enemy. That their opposition are taking their freedoms and rights away.

When did we devolve into this “me-centered – everything-has-to-be-exactly-as-I-want-it” society? Like the pot of boiling water, it looks like we are about to blow the lid off our interactions with one another.

What is interesting about this state we find ourselves in is that while on the surface it looks like we are slowly disintegrating and about to implode, these are the times when we can grow the most. Advance our understanding of one another’s positions and move into a better state for everyone. The biggest challenges produce the right conditions to grow the most.

But to do that, we must build a structure in which we can really and truly understand our very different positions. One that will expose assumptions made by each side, and lead to finding common ground. Only then can we move forward. To build a climate where that can happen, we have to step back and change our approach.

Step One: Create a Climate of Tolerance

Express an earnest and sincere attitude to hear, without judgment, the opposing viewpoint. To convey that intent, use a kind tone of voice and inoffensive language to make your request to hear their side. A warm attitude and open disposition will disarm initial doubt as to your intent.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Step Two: Ask Questions

Prepare questions to ask. These questions should give you insight into:

  • Their background and history;
  • Their beliefs, motivations, and other reasons for their position; and,
  • Their exact stance on the subject.

Ask pointed questions. Stifle the urge to say anything about your beliefs or position at this point. This is their time to talk. It is their moment in the sun. People want to be heard, and if you give them that to start with you will gain more trust and openness from them in addition to finding out exactly where they stand.

Step Three: Listen – Really Listen

Hear what they are saying in their answers. Push any thoughts about your own view aside. You are not here to argue, you are here to hear what is on their heart. If necessary, use reflective listening to make sure you get a clear grasp of what they are saying.

Step Four: Employ Empathy

Put yourself in their skin. Knowing what you do of their mindset (that you learned in step one), equate what you are hearing with who they are. Try to understand why. Drop your boundaries enough to truly feel their viewpoint within yourself.

Step Five: Find the Common Ground

Now that you have full understanding, look for common goals and beliefs. These are the cornerstones you can use to work toward. If you have the same ultimate destination, all you need to do is find the best path forward.

Steph Six: Relate Your Needs and Desires to That Common Ground

As you work toward that common destination, you can explain how your needs and desires align with their own, making the goal a shared one to work toward.

Step Seven: Find a Workable Solution for Everyone

Hopefully at this point in your discussion, you are both on the same path. Working together to benefit everyone involved. If not, look at any assumptions that are still in play and go back to the beginning.

To unmask the assumptions that stand in the way of understanding, it is necessary to use a different approach. One that softens hostility and opens the door to real change. It is not always easy to follow the above script, but if true understanding is what you are looking for, this offers a workable way to get both sides the answers they seek.

Copyright 2021, Monica Nelson

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