Before going into a challenging situation or conversation, you probably do some planning. You might imagine the whole argument, and the imagined you might be a great debater, always calm and eloquent and saying the right thing. Or you might mentally test your options, focusing on how the other person could react to each one. Or, you might silently say all the things that you know you shouldn’t actually say out loud. What all of our imagined selves tend to have in common, though, is that they’re talking. Expressing themselves. Telling their story or asking their questions and watching the other person react. And while this rehearsal can be useful, it isn’t the place to start.
The place to start is with your mindset.
Unless you are a talented actor, people usually have some sense of how you feel about them. And that’s why it is so important to cultivate an attitude of respect toward the person you’ll be interacting with, no matter how much you disagree with them. You don’t have to like them – you might not be able to do that even if you wanted to. But, no matter how much you dislike someone, you can probably find a way to respect them. If you believe they are your equal as a person, and that they, like everyone, have something good somewhere inside them (even if you can’t find it right this minute), you’ll communicate more effectively than the most eloquent debater who thinks the opposite.
A few notes about mindset:
Improving your mindset might change what you say or do, if your original plan treated the other person as less than you, or as an inherently bad/stupid/wrong person. The changed approach will lead to a better conversation and a better chance at a good solution.
A changed mindset doesn’t always lead to a changed plan… but that doesn’t mean it won’t change your result! If you adjust your mindset and still feel good about what you planned to say or do; that’s ok! Having a basic attitude of respect underneath the same words and actions will still make for better communication and a solution that everyone feels better about.
The tougher the conversation you’re going to have, the more important it is to go into it with this attitude of respect and equality. Imagine a really tough conversation – one where you have to impose consequences for bad behavior. There is no way that the other person is going to like what you have to say or what you have to do. But if they feel like you respect them, they are unlikely to feel small or resentful – actually, they will probably be motivated to do better next time.
What if you disagree with someone so strongly that you do think they are just stupid and wrong? You know you’re not going to change any minds with this approach, but maybe you just can’t find any warm and respectful feelings. Try finding some curiosity instead. If you can be genuinely interested in learning where their views came from, you might be surprised to also find some common ground along the way.