I have no doubt that over the past 2 years of living with Covid-19, feelings of fear and anxiety have surfaced for most of us. Sometimes these feelings can be overcome by anger, a natural response to a perceived threat. When anger takes over, our ability to reason and think logically decrease, while our instinctual motivation toward action can lead to confrontation.
Coming together in a safe and respectful environment can help to bridge the political divide and heal the wounds of fear and anger. By focusing on our own feelings, thoughts and reactions we gain personal control over the situation and can approach conversations with tenderness.
If you are wondering how to approach difficult conversations with people you care about, keep these 4 points in mind:
1. Start with curiosity and respect; ask questions with a goal to understand underlying fears or concerns. Use openers like “I’m curious about”…or “I wonder”… as opposed to “Why”. This promotes discussion rather than a feeling of interrogation, and encourages a sense of not knowing rather than evoking a defensive response.
2. Approach with empathy. Sometimes engaging true empathy can be harder with someone very close to us because we assume we know the person so well that we judge their feelings based on our own experiences. The true meaning of empathy is to try to understand from their perspective and experience, rather than our own. If you notice you are making assumptions, refer to point 1 and ask for elaboration.
3. Focus on shared values. It can be helpful to offer the benefit of doubt when thinking about individual intentions. Most people aren’t making choices to intentionally hurt others. Past experiences can cause relevant concern for people, causing fear and anxiety to take the reins on decisions. Connect over shared beliefs and known values in order to build trust.
4. Don’t try to change minds. Ask yourself what your intention is for the conversation, and approach with love. Don’t get drawn into an argument. Not everyone may be ready to engage in curious, respectful dialogue and an effective conversation can’t be one-sided. Allow yourself to walk away if things start to feel unproductive or disrespectful.
Conversations that feel difficult or challenging are always better held face-to-face, so resist the urge to comment or engage in discussions over social media. Online we miss the full human experience of communication, so to make a meaningful connection, wait for an in-person opportunity. Hopefully, as time goes on, we can move toward building bridges and coming together rather than deepening divides.