What often happens instead is that people assert their opinions without considering the reasoning, assumptions, or facts that their opinions are based on. They feel distressed or angry when someone expresses an opposing point of view. They argue. The interchange becomes heated and emotional. It becomes a matter of winning and losing.
But no one really wins an argument. All that happens is that people lose respect for each other and resent each other because their beliefs have been attacked. They continue to hold fast to their opinions as if they were absolutely true, and nothing is learned or resolved.
Debates and arguments are the opposite of dialogue.
Dialogue is about maintaining a realistic, humble perspective, keeping your mind open to the possibility of learning from another person’s point of view and helping them understand yours. During the process, you encourage the other person to keep an open mind as both of you explore each other’s opinions.
It’s strictly about discovering what people believe and why, and it involves two parts.
Part One has to do with asking about the other person’s opinions. This means exploring the assumptions, facts and reasoning that support their perspective.
Before you ask questions, be clear in your own mind that you’re not trying to prove that you’re right. And don’t listen just to be polite.
To assure the other person that you aren’t wedded to your opinions, and that you’re genuinely interested in other points of view, ask questions such as, “What caused you to see it that way?” or “What conclusions led you to this opinion?”
Listen without interrupting or debating. When you sense the logic behind the person’s thinking, check to make sure you understand it correctly. “It sounds like you see it this way because…”
And when you hear something that sounds like a fact, check it out. “That’s interesting. Where did you learn that?”
Sometimes, people aren’t conscious of the assumptions, facts and reasoning that underlie their opinions. Probing to learn why others think the way they do helps you both understand what’s behind their point of view.
Part Two is about stating your own opinions and describing the assumptions, facts and reasoning that support your point of view.
Essentially you express your own point of view, including the same things you asked about—the assumptions, facts and reasoning behind your perspective.
Invite the other person to question your reasoning. Say something like, “So that’s where I’m coming from. Feel free to ask me about any of it, if you’d like.”
If you sense that the other person wants to debate or argue with you, try to defuse it. Say something like, “We could debate this, but I don’t think we really need to right now. I just want to hear your opinions and understand where you’re coming from.”
Dialogue is a powerful communication skill. When you have a difference of opinion with someone else, you may have to fight the habit we all have of trying to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong.
Instead, you’ll be exploring what you and the other person are thinking, and why. You’ll be asking about that individual’s opinions, and you’ll be explaining your own.
You’ll be amazed at the response you get when you show respect for other people’s opinions. Your relationships benefit when you give up arguing and you express a genuine interest in what other people care about.
"It is understanding that gives us the ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences." - Harry Truman, American president (1884-1972)