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We all have opinions on controversial topics, like politics and religion. We take a side and defend it at all costs. When we get into arguments about these topics, the conversation can turn nasty as people try to prove their point of view is right. However, there’s another way to talk about divisive issues without arguing: by asking good questions and listening to answers; by trying to understand why someone has the opinion they do instead of just talking about your own viewpoint; by helping others challenge their assumptions; by not giving in when you feel attacked or pressured but rather staying calm no matter what happens around you.
Authors Peter Boghossian and David Lindsay argue that people would be better off if they didn’t assume that their own beliefs were the correct ones. Instead, they should question them and consider other viewpoints. Therefore, in this article I’ll explain how to do it! Along the way, you’ll learn why people think they can explain how a toilet works—but usually can’t; why you shouldn’t talk about evolution until after asking someone how he’s doing; and why you should ask people how they are before bringing up religion.
Big Idea #1: “Impossible” conversations can be productive when they become collaborative.
Our beliefs matter. No matter how trivial or serious, they change the way we behave. For example, if it’s cold outside you will wear a jacket because you believe that it’ll make you warmer even though there is no actual proof of this. Other beliefs have more serious consequences such as when voters are convinced that immigrants are murdering their fellow citizens and elect a strongman to do whatever he can to keep them safe even though there is no actual proof of this either.
When the stakes are high, it’s more likely that people will clash with one another. When individuals feel like they’re right, conversations become impossible. However, there is a way to have productive discussions about difficult subjects. The key message here is: “Impossible” conversations can be productive when they become collaborative.” What does this mean? Well, it means that the divide between ideas and beliefs can be bridged through collaboration.”
Sometimes, people argue with each other. They talk over one another and don’t listen to what the other person is saying. Instead of having a conversation, they just try to make their point as loudly as possible.
The good news is that if someone is willing to talk, we can have a productive conversation. Beliefs can and do change when approached in the right manner. Coercion isn’t the way to go about it though because you won’t get anywhere with it. It’s not just unethical; there are pragmatic reasons why coercion doesn’t work too: people may say they changed their minds but often that’s just pretense.
Some people have changed their minds after engaging in conversation.
Conversations are collaborative. If you come to see things differently, it’s because you helped generate the ideas that changed your mind. This is one of the reasons conversations can lead people to reassess their beliefs. When we work together with somebody, we achieve better results than when we simply tell them they’re wrong and stupid.
Big Idea #2: If you want to change someone’s mind, you have to listen to them.
Imagine a dancer doing pirouettes or a surgeon making incisions. Both are very complex, but they build on simple foundations. If dancers and surgeons didn’t understand the basics, ballets and operations wouldn’t be possible. The same is true in conversations; it’s a skill that must be mastered with its fundamental principles. How do you master this?