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How & Why You Should Strive to Understand Someone Else’s Point of View

Specifically When You Don’t Agree

In today’s current age of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, people not only have a platform to express their opinions but a wide-open world where other people can congregate and agree but also disagree and disrespect. The Internet is a place of opinions and name calling which, at times, is representative of the real world. Now more than ever it seems like opinions are polarizing and any sign of disapproval or disagreement can result in a hurling of insults and even personal attacks. And though I agree it’s always important to learn how to properly convey your specific point of view, it’s equally important to understand someone else’s.

Without a base level of understanding and respect for another’s opinion or perspective, a civil discussion can turn into a YouTube comment section.

The comments from Vice’s “America First” video

Besides trolls, nobody truly wants to live in a YouTube comment section. It gets messy and tacky quite expeditiously. In order to avoid an onslaught of vicious attacks, it’s important to establish a level of understanding with other people who have different views than yours. So here’s a list of proposed steps you can take to understanding your neighbor a little better.

Ask Questions

This is the best way to understand another person’s perspective. As Ph.D. Jaelline Jaffe writes,

When someone has a perspective different from our own, we can use our Zen Beginner’s Mind, and ask, with genuine curiosity and interest, Why? “I don’t see it the same way you do and I wonder if you can tell me more about how you came to that conclusion.” “I really don’t agree with your point, and I’m interested in expanding my understanding. Please explain what I’m missing, from where you stand.”

Asking with an open mind is one of the most powerful things you can do to getting on the same level with another person. Asking not only will help get some clarity, but it also tells the person you’re talking to that you want to understand their point of view. If a person feels like they’re heard, they’re more likely to hear someone else’s perspective. This is crucial to getting anywhere with someone you disagree with. Hearing them out can bring about an assortment of possibilities namely inadvertently revealing an agreeance neither knew was there. Asking questions can change perspectives and enrich worldviews.

Don’t Listen With the Intent to Discredit or Disprove

This should go without saying, but I think it’s worth mentioning. To listen is to do so actively which means to truly hear what the other person is saying in an effort to understand them. Anyone would get turned off if they thought they were being heard only to have what they said thrown back in their face. Doing that would, in fact, drive a person further away from not only the one they’re arguing with but also what they’re arguing. So, as painful as it can be and as much as you might want to jump in and correct, listen first and foremost to understand. Gift of Life Institute wonderfully lays out an ideal active listening situation,

When you accurately reflect back to a person what’s been said, you show that you’ve been listening — not just hearing — and that you genuinely understand the feeling/s or message/s they are trying to convey. This creates an environment that allows the speaker to go deeper, and sometimes even to come to new realizations. It’s the basis for trust and respect.

Once that’s established, both parties can move forward much more civilly without the incorrect assumption that they’re defending themselves from an intolerant person.

Consider Who You’re Talking To

When you’re in a heated discussion with someone, it’s helpful to remember who it is you’re talking to or better yet think of it as “knowing your audience.” Barnabas Piper, a writer and blogger, has written a few points to consider when addressing an audience of any size,

A) What has the audience already heard?

B) How was it communicated to them?

C) Is your [argument] different in content and/or style?

If, for example, you are having a disagreement with a Trump supporter, accusing them of being a racist or a bigot will immediately turn them off to anything you have to say. Trump supporters are, like anyone would be, extremely sensitive to insults. Calling them any of the typical names they’re used to being called will only push them away. It only takes one similarity, one difference in presentation, to open up communications lines.

A powerful example of this is when Hank Newsome, the president of Black Lives Matter New York, got to speak at a pro-Trump rally when they were originally going to “stand militantly with their fists in the air and maybe exchange insults.” But instead, a speaker from the pro-Trump side gave Newsome the chance to deliver his message. Instead of chanting “Black lives matter!” on stage for two minutes, he started off his speech with “I am an American” and that was enough to get people to cheer for him. There were people in the audience who disagreed with him but he aptly adapted his message to that crowd and the results, in his words, were “more substantial” than if he hadn’t considered who he was talking to.

Try to Understand Why The Other Person Believes They’re Right

Just as we have seen in the political realm, everybody believes they are right. But that’s not a revolutionary concept. Why does anyone believe anything? Because they think what they believe is the truth whether it’s backed up by empirical facts or not. Even so, there’s still a reason why people believe what they do. It’s important to remember this when talking to anyone. If the person you’re talking to believes they are right and you believe you are right, then where can you go from there? One or both of you need to try to understand the other person’s beliefs without judgment. That will get you absolutely nowhere. Once you get to the roots of a person’s beliefs, it becomes easier to understand them. Ask genuine questions, be open to understand and maybe you can connect on the points you agree with.

Accept That You Might Not Agree

There are going to be times where no matter how understanding the other person may be, no matter how well you argue your point, the other person simply doesn’t agree. And that’s okay. Agreeing isn’t imperative to discussions and it shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. Don’t take it personally because your opinions and beliefs can and do change. They don’t ultimately define you because the definition of you changes over time. So don’t put too much stock in getting people to agree with you. I’d say YouTube user TheTron08 stated my point best,

You can also replace “politics” with “beliefs” or “opinions.”

Instead, keep an open mind and if all else fails, agree to disagree. You may not have come out convincing anyone to adopt your take, but compassion, empathy, and a newfound respect can be, as Newsome put it, a more substantial outcome than the alternative.

In The End…

No matter what beliefs you hold near and dear to your heart, understand the people around you is one of the most important skills you can acquire. It helps you thrive in business, in writing, in relationships, and in life. If you need some examples, consider watching the Middle Ground series on YouTube. Those videos are excellent examples of civil discussions on fundamentally differing opinions and beliefs. So the next time you get into it with someone you disagree with, consider establishing common ground and maybe you can encourage dialogue rather than a screaming match.