Bridging What Divides
First published in Women Advance website March 19, 2018
In today’s society, chances are you live with, work with or church with someone whose opinions and beliefs are vastly different than yours. And isn’t it interesting that each side is so certain that theirs is the best informed, most correct point of view? How can it be that both sides feel so certain?
I myself often feel this way. From time to time, I will go to a news source that has the opposite opinion of mine and watch to see what their take is on a breaking piece of news information. I am always astonished (and frequently aggravated) to see that they have a totally different take than I on something that I am so clearly right about.
Why is that? Most likely, it is case of confirmation bias. We all believe what we believe and will sort information out (even from the same source) to make it fit our belief. Yes, even me and even you.
Now, if you can breathe through that tidbit, depending on your desired outcome, we can find a way to have conversation with someone whose opinion differs from yours.
Our biology and the make-up of our brains play a large part in our capacity to have challenging conversations. When feeling challenged the biology goes into fight/flight/freeze and the mind is flooded with chemicals that disallow us to access our greatest thinking at a time when our greatest thinking is required in order to come to understanding. Our reptilian mind feels under attack and our ego determines to take to no prisoners, to conquer, to win. If there is a winner, there must be a loser, which creates a cycle that disallows for communication. Communication is about understanding, not about who wins and who loses.
It is vastly helpful to be self reflective first. Some questions that you can ask yourself.
“What do I want from this conversation?”
“Am I seeking to convert this person to my way of thinking?”
“Why is that important to me?”
“Is it from my ego?”
“Is there danger involved?”
“Why am I so certain that my way of thinking is correct?”
“Am I willing to see things from their point of view?”
“Am I being open minded in the same way that I am asking them to be?”
“How will I handle my biology when conflict arises?”
Breathe through that and feel the emotions that arise even asking yourself these questions.
Our egoic state and the biology attached to it will disallow another point of view unless we are greatly trained to sit with opposing points of view. It requires training, internal introspection and self reflection to have conversations with those whose opinions differ, because our goal is to win rather than to understand.
Seek first to understand, then be understood is a concept that takes more time than many of us are willing to make a commitment to. If there is genuine commitment to resolution (especially with your family), understanding when you go into hijack and learning to breathe together until the limbic system is calmed can be a very effective tool.
This space allows the connection to stay strengthened as the differences arise. Without that sense of connection, there can be no understanding only disconnection.
We can tolerate differences better when accompanied with connection.
Deeper conversations are best and more successfully had in stages where we can halt the conversation when our biology hijacks our ability to listen openly. Given space and time for cooler heads to prevail allows, our need to control the conversation can retreat.
The need to have these conversations and the challenges to be effective in them are both driven much more by biology than we are even aware. Some time spent in understanding the underlying issues can vastly improve the outcomes.