I hoped to have an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a person I did not know well. She made a claim that caught my attention because it challenged what I know. My thought was, aha, this is an opportunity to get to know her better. This is an opportunity to gain a new friend.
We all love to talk. Conversation – the mutual interchange of ideas – is one of the most pleasant experiences we have. Conversation binds us together in new relationships and keeps our existing relationships strong. We confirm we belong when we find common ground and we stretch ourselves when we are open to hearing contrary ideas.
Eager to hear a contrary idea, I engaged her by asking for one or more examples of what she meant. Unfortunately, my question was taken as a confrontation and it quickly became clear she wasn’t willing to have her own viewpoint challenged. As a result, she ended the conversation before I could tell her about the common ground we share.
When someone’s ideas differ from ours, we can choose to learn more about what they think and why, or we can decide to move on. When that person with incomprehensible ideas is part of our own family, we are more motivated to understand their point of view. We might even desperately look for some common ground so that we can repair a relationship or divert a conversation from heading to a shouting match, or worse.
One of the greatest challenges we have in building strong relationships with people who think differently is in listening to their ideas in a way of open acceptance. In my situation, I realized too late that I should have expressed my interest differently in order to show her we share common ground and to make her comfortable to explore ideas that challenge her own thinking.
Obviously, I don’t have a tried and true way of navigating this kind of situation.
I do know that I feel myself becoming energized and more creative simply by listening to ideas that challenge my assumptions, break my usual thought patterns, and in general shift my perspective. I also know that learning about new ideas provides a frame of reference for me to understand others who are not like me and makes it easier to hold conversations and build relationships.
Great conversation does not always come easily. A great conversation begins when two people feel at ease talking with one another based on some idea or belief they both hold. When I failed to convey that we share certain ideas, I failed to show her a great conversation was possible. I lost that opportunity to make a friend.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: We build relationships when we are open to hearing others express their ideas and then express the common ground with our own ideas. Sometimes the challenge is in sticking with the conversation long enough to discover where our ideas or beliefs overlap.
What tips do you have for me on how to handle a challenging interaction? Write your suggestions in the comments or tweet me @lifeishotblog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!