How to Have Difficult Conversations: Practical Tips for Communicating across Difference
The LARA Method
Try to understand what they are saying, and where you might agree: Listen for and label the emotions you hear. What are they feeling as they describe their stance? How might you identify with this emotion(s) as well? Let them get their whole thoughts out before responding. Try not to interrupt or be quick to “jump in.”
Make a connection with them, and show them that you understand, or are trying to understand their position: Restate what they said to check your understanding, but without trying to “prove a point.” This is your chance to show you are actively listening. Find points of connection (a shared emotion, commitment, desire, or outcome) and verbally state that.
Show respect, even if you disagree: Use a neutral tone. Avoid name-calling, “always/never” language, and other ways of speaking that may provoke defensiveness or lead to arguments. Focus on the content of your stance. Think about – “how can I help this person understand better my point-of-view?” without trying to convince or persuade them.
Talk and behave like you want to continue the conversation Discover ways to keep the dialogue moving. What are points of similarity between you and them? What are additional points of insight you may offer to help achieve mutual understanding or at least compassion for their point-of-view?
Instead of waiting until it’s your turn to talk, try really listening to what is being said. Where are points on which you and they may find common ground? What are points of confusion you may benefit from learning more about?
Instead of using closed-ended questions that result in yes/no answers, try open-ended questions that provoke dialogue. Focus on asking what, where, how, and when questions. Exercise caution when using “why”, as it may sound judgmental.
Instead of filling space with more words, try pauses and silence. Sometimes one of the best mechanisms for diffusing a tense situation is to be quiet for a moment for you to collect your thoughts, and them theirs.
Instead of making assumptions about their motives, beliefs, or experiences, try checking-in with them about how they came to their point-of-view.
“I feel sad when we can’t discuss this issue without fighting. I want us to better understand each other’s perspective. Can we try talking about this again without yelling?”
An easy way to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings rather than attributing them to someone else. Start with:
- I feel, when…
- I understand, when…
- I want, when…