Published: Feb. 11, 2021

two cups of coffee held by two handsIt can be challenging to have conversations with people who don’t share our own views or who see the world differently from us. But in these conversations, we can often allow room for multiple truths and having open conversations can help us learn and grow.

Check out some ways to have open dialogues, no matter who you’re talking to.

Listen first, speak second

Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of it: listening just enough so that we can formulate our own response. While we may be able to get away with this in the short term, it’s important to really listen to each other. In other words, listen to understand, not to respond.

Try taking a step back to really listen to the person you’re having a conversation with. Ask questions and clarify what you hear. Show interest in the things they’re saying and invite them to share more. Giving people our undivided attention helps us become better communicators and makes them feel heard. When it’s your turn to speak, ask for them to do the same for you. It may take some practice, but it’ll be well worth it in the end.  

Approach the conversation with an open mind

Approach conversations with empathy and understanding. It’s normal to have conflicting feelings when you don’t agree with a person’s point of view, but it doesn’t mean you can’t empathize and validate their perspective. It’s also important to keep in mind that your peers likely have different reasons motivating their viewpoints and actions. Try to understand what is important to them, what they need and how that impacts their behaviors. Avoid making assumptions and instead, take their perspective and life experiences into account. 

Having meaningful conversations can provide you an opportunity to learn more about your peers and their actions. 

Use effective communication skills

Having good communication skills can help direct the conversation in a healthy way. Here are some things to consider when talking with someone with a different perspective than yours.

  • Be mindful. Sometimes your passion for a topic can bring up strong feelings, so it is important to be mindful of your tone and demeanor. Remember that it’s not always about what you say but how you say it. Check in and ask yourself “does this still feel like a conversation or does it feel like an argument?”
  • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions can help draw out ideas or thoughts from a friend or peer. Use them as a way to gain deeper understanding, but use them sparingly. Asking too many questions can make the conversation start to feel more like an interrogation.
  • Use affirmations. Whether you agree with someone’s position or not, it’s important to use affirmations to highlight the strengths and values that someone is bringing to the conversation. Validate how they’re feeling, rather than how they’re behaving. You can be understanding that someone is upset, angry or worried, without saying it’s okay to yell.
  • Use reflections to clarify. Reflections are a great communication tool, but they can take some practice. Reflections give us a chance to state back what we think someone is hearing or saying. This either confirms to someone that we are hearing what they are saying or gives them the opportunity to correct any misinterpretations.
  • Summarize the conversation. Wrap up the conversation, or a portion of the conversation, by summarizing to highlight the positive aspects of what you discussed. At the end of the conversation, thank the person for their time and let them know that you appreciate their willingness to speak with you. 

Seek opportunities to learn more

One of the best ways to learn and have open conversations about different perspectives is to seek out opportunities that encourage and create a safe space. 

  • The Dennis Small Cultural Center (DSCC) is offering a semester-long dialogue series where you can join other Buffs in sharing your experiences and learn from others in a safe space. Some of the topics include celebrating women of color, anti-Asian racism in times of COVID and much more.
  • WellCU from Health and Wellness Services provides workshops to teach you skills and give you tools for having tough conversations, supporting others and more.  
  • Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers a weekly workshop for navigating difficult conversations. 
  • Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution offers conflict coaching and consultation services to help students develop skills for having difficult conversations. 

For more ways to get involved check out our Student Events website, visit the Student Affairs website and be sure to follow us on social media @CUBoulderLife on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!