Published: March 14, 2023

Two people sitting on a benchIt can be challenging to talk with people who do not share your point of view. But in these conversations, there are often multiple truths. By acknowledging each other’s perspectives, we can explore differing opinions, learn, and grow.

Here are some ways to turn those difficult conversations into thoughtful discussions.

Approach the conversation with an open mind

Living, learning and/or working on a college campus offers many opportunities to explore new ideas. In order for you to empower yourself and your peers to work them out, we need to give space for the opinions of others.

Start by recognizing that you have a worldview that is shaped by one or more culture groups that you belong in, and that the person you are talking with may have a different cultural background. Acknowledging and celebrating our differences is an important part of hearing other people’s views, as it can help you approach conversations with a willingness to learn.

Keep in mind that your peers may also have different reasons motivating their viewpoints and actions. Try understanding what is important to them, what they need and how those things impact their behaviors. Avoid making assumptions, and instead approach the conversation with empathy by taking their perspective and life experiences into account.

Listen first, speak second

In a debate, people listen to formulate their own response. However, when trying to have a thoughtful conversation with someone, your goal should not be to debunk each other’s points. 

Instead of listening to respond, try listening to understand. Setting this intention will help you approach the conversation in a more open way, rather than coming to it with your set points and arguments ready to be fired off.

Give the person you are talking to your full attention when they are speaking. Ask clarifying questions and be genuine when inviting them to share more. Giving people your undivided attention helps us become better communicators and makes others feel heard. 

When it is your turn to speak, do not hesitate to ask them to do these same actions for you. This allows you to create a space where you can also share your views without judgment. Setting up clear expectations and boundaries before a conversation may feel awkward at first, but with practice it becomes more natural.

Use effective communication skills

Having good communications skills can help direct the conversation in a healthy way. Communicating effectively also allows you to engage more fully, as it can help you articulate an opinion in a meaningful and coherent way.

Here are some skills to use 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 is 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 cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions can help draw out ideas or thoughts to gain a deeper understanding. 
  • Use reflections to clarify. Reflections give us a chance to state back what we think someone is hearing or saying. This either confirms to someone that we understand them, or gives them the opportunity to correct any misinterpretations. 
  • Use affirmations. Whether you agree with someone’s position or not, it is important to use affirmations to highlight the strengths and values that someone is bringing to the conversation. 
  • Summarize the conversation. Wrap up the conversation, or a portion of the conversation, by summarizing and highlighting 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

CU Boulder offers various programs and spaces for people to share their perspectives and learn additional skills to have thoughtful conversations.