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Master the Art of Conversation 

Tips for connecting with differing opinions

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Like-minded community; a space to grow. We’ve heard numerous brands and organizations market themselves to employees and applicants with a similar tag line. Initially, this sounds great. A community of people just like us will accommodate our happiness — it’s easier. But, therein lies the hindrance. We are who we are because of the experiences we’ve had along the way — familially, and societally. Often, those who are like-minded come from similar backgrounds. It’s important to have a strong support system and know people who “get you.” But are they always able to expand our perspectives? Let’s take a quick look at psychology.

Within politics and other strongly opinionated areas, group polarization is a term which describes the psychological phenomenon when people shift to extreme opinions in a group. There are two main theories for why this occurs. The first is normative influence. This means that people change their opinions and behaviors in order to fit in with the group and find acceptance.

The second theory is informational influence, which explains that after hearing arguments or “expert” opinions, people are more likely to change their minds and believe things they otherwise may not. Arguably, your opinions are fostered from direct experiences, but being experienced in a closed and/or like-minded setting may limit both normative and informational influences. Either way, your perspectives and opinions remain valid. Conviction and belief aren’t always based in fact. And this isn’t unnatural or wrong, it’s human, but we should be cognizant of our biases and be open-minded to new information and new perspectives.

How can we grow within our own frame of reference? To truly grow, see, and understand new perspectives, we should surround ourselves with open-minded and diverse individuals. Through new experiences, life stories, and cultural frameworks, we can form strong opinions, enhance learning, and constructively reflect upon our own biases and beliefs. Find the time in multiple areas of your life to talk about things that matter. Ask others about themselves in ways that evoke emotion and ideas, rather than relying solely on small talk. Start a new activity or class to expose yourself to diverse communities. Surround yourself with interesting people and places.

If the conversation gets heated and you find that you have more differences than you expected, remember people are more than just opinions; they’re actions, passions, emotions, and so much more. If you find you’re unable to have a civil conversation where you disagree, look for similarities. Surely there are some things you have in common. Did you come to different conclusions from the same experience?

Here are a few questions you can ask to better understand others and dig a little deeper:

  • Where’s your favorite place you’ve traveled?
  • Was there something special about the culture?
  • How has your family shaped your personality?
  • What gives you energy and what do you find draining?
  • When are you at your happiest?
  • Who’s your oldest friend?
  • What did you do the last time you were with them?
  • What personality trait do you wish you had?

Trace your separate experiences and start to understand how they’ve shaped each of you in different ways, while being careful to maintain respect. Always be kind and courteous. You can respect people with different opinions, state that you respect them out loud, and change the topic. Most people prefer to remain non confrontational. People might be up to discussing different things when they see that you remain civil, intentional, and interested. Make your connections with others count.

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