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  • Sharon Borland

#20 Creating Space for Conflicting Views

Seeking to understand why people have different opinions to us can be challenging, but very rewarding.

How easy is it to create an atmosphere in which you can talk to someone about an issue you strongly disagree on? It didn’t sound too bad in principle when I listened to a Podcast, until I tried putting it into practice. Fortunately, I tested it out in a role play with Gary first. I thought I wasn’t doing too badly: I focused on using language that didn’t seem too positional; I voiced empathy with those who could find my position hard to understand; and I explained that I had considered how some individuals could experience real difficulty if my ideas were put into practice.

Gary listened quietly then asked questions, each time pausing to listen to my reply. One of the things that became clear was that I didn’t have nearly as many facts available as I thought - I’d made a number of assumptions and I’d relied on what others had stated as ‘true’ instead of checking for myself. It also became clear that I was completely dug in, there was absolutely no space to consider that I could be wrong, which left no room for anyone to disagree, robbing me of hearing alternative perspectives. Even more surprising to me was that after we’d discussed how the conversation had gone and how it could have been handled differently, I realised that I still had no idea what Gary thought about my views – I wasn’t asking any questions or doing much listening!

Sometimes you might have a conversation about an issue where conflicting views are expressed simply because they’ve been triggered during general conversation. At other times, you may intentionally set out to have a discussion. Perhaps you want to convince someone that you’re right and they’re wrong. Maybe you have a passion for having difficult conversations. Perhaps you just want to check out your thinking, or you may even be attempting to help someone. I wonder how often I want to be right, even if it’s sometimes hidden behind a more appealing explanation?

Whatever the reason for a conversation with conflicting views, it’s likely the outcome will be more satisfying if we are open to the possibility that there may be things we haven’t considered. By being more intentional about listening to understand rather than listening until there’s a gap to speak, we’re likely to open up a space for people to share views that lead to learning and new perspectives. At the very least, the other person will hopefully feel listened to and valued, and in the process, a powerful connection may be created. It’s likely you don’t have to look too far to find the opposite!


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