Published: Oct. 9, 2023

Two people talking on a bench outsideIt can be challenging to talk with people who do not share your point of view. However, talking through differences can build trust, deepen relationships and help avoid misunderstandings or unresolved conflicts. When we acknowledge each other’s perspectives, it can allow us to 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 working on a college campus offers many opportunities to explore new ideas. You can empower yourself and your peers to think critically about these ideas when you listen with an open mind and give space for others to express their thoughts and opinions. 

Start by recognizing that your cultural background and experiences have shaped your worldview. The person you are talking with may have a different cultural background and brings those experiences to the conversation. Acknowledging and celebrating our differences is essential in 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. Instead, approach the conversation empathetically and consider their perspective and life experiences. 

Listen first, speak second 

In a debate, people listen to formulate their 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 more openly rather than coming to it with set points and arguments. 

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.  

Ask them to reciprocate these actions when it is your turn to speak. You can create a space to share your views without judgment. Setting 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 communication skills can help direct the conversation in a healthy way. Communicating an opinion coherently and with meaning allows you to engage more fully. 

Here are skills to use when talking with someone with a different perspective than yours: 

  • Be mindful. Your passion for a topic may bring up strong feelings, so be aware of your tone and demeanor. Remember that it is not always about what you say but how you say it. Ask yourself: does this still feel like a conversation, or does it feel like an argument? 
  • Ask open-ended questions. A simple yes or no cannot answer an open-ended question. These questions can help draw out ideas or thoughts to gain a deeper understanding.  
  • Use reflections to clarify. Reflections allow us to state what we think someone is hearing or saying. Then, they can confirm that we understand them or correct any misinterpretations.  
  • Use affirmations. Whether you agree with someone’s position or not, you can use affirmations to highlight the strengths and values someone brings to the conversation.  
  • Summarize the conversation. Wrap up 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 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. 


Center for Inclusion & Social Change (CISC)
CISC offers various events, programs and groups where students, faculty and staff can join fellow Buffs to share their experiences and learn from others in a safe space.

CU Student Government (CUSG)
CUSG, the official governing and representative body of the student population, provides a space for Buffs to bring attention to and respectfully discuss issues they are passionate about.

Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution (SCCR)
SCCR offers conflict coaching, mediation and consultation services to help students develop skills for having difficult conversations.

Health & Wellness Services
Health & Wellness Services provides workshops to give students, faculty and staff skills and tools for supporting others during challenging experiences.