Always something to learn

22 Jun There Is Always Something to Learn from Other People’s Perspectives

What do you do when faced with someone who has a point of view very different to your own?

Do you tune it out? Do you start a passionate debate in the hopes of changing that person’s mind?

Or do you listen with empathy, trying to learn where the other person is coming from and find some shared middle ground?

In the powerful TED talk below, Zachary R. Wood shares that by engaging with controversial viewpoints, it allows you to try to find common ground. It also lets you reach a better understanding of our own beliefs and preserve our ability to solve problems, which we can’t do if we don’t talk to each other and make an effort to be good listeners.

Why?

Because tuning out opposing viewpoints doesn’t make them go away. It’s worth the discomfort to listen as it will make us stronger, not weaker, because of empathy required to do so.

So how do you build shared understanding?

  1. Ask questions. Learn as much as you can about why the person thinks the way they do. What is the outcome they believe their opinions and actions will create?
  2. Respond, don’t react. It’s easy to be triggered by someone’s comments, especially when our defenses are up.  When you feel your chest tighten and your pulse quicken, don’t act immediately.  Instead, pause and notice your reaction.  The simple act of taking a deep breath can work wonders to shift away from defensiveness.
  3. Look for the positive intentions. Very rarely are people simply out to get you. They may have different goals from yours but they usually come from good intentions. If you aren’t sure what someone’s intentions are, ask them. If you’re determined to make an assumption, it’s better to assume the positive.
  4. Shift to shared understanding. What do you have in common?
  5. Reflect on how the interaction affected your own beliefs. Did they change?

While your viewpoints may still be opposing by the end of the conversation, you will have definitely learned something valuable – an appreciation of their perspective. That’s a great place to start if you want to create a bridge of understanding.

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