How to Talk About Things That Matter – A Guide to Meaningful Conversations
How can we talk about things that matter in a world where people’s emotional capacity is being tested constantly and triggers are everywhere? How can we be more mindful of another person’s struggle (or the lack of it) while effectively conveying our perspective?
It’s 2020 and it feels like every day we wake up to a new fire, when the world was already burning before we fell asleep.
I’ve seen this meme floating around (what’s a 21st-century blog without a meme) that said something along the lines of:
Person 1 : Gosh, a guy can’t make a joke these days without offending anyone – am I right? Back in the good ol’ days, you could say anything and people wouldn’t be so weak or get triggered by everything.
Person 2: No, actually we’re a lot more tolerant as a generation but the only things we’re intolerant towards are sexism, racism, homophobia etc. and if you’re making jokes about any of the above, you’re a part of the problem. People deal with enough as it is without you having to remind them of their trauma without their consent.
Seems like an easy concept to grasp, right? Don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in a good debate.
But if a person debates for the sake of debating, keeping their ears shut the whole time, they probably don’t deserve my time or energy.
I believe we should all be able to talk about things that matter or bother us. From the discussions I’ve been a part of at Aristotle’s Cafe, I truly believe we can learn from each other and grow from our mistakes. Let’s look at some ways we can do that, while still being mindful and empathetic of the other person.
I promise this isn’t the harder way!
It just takes a little practice and a smidgen of kindness…
1. Listen, actively
Seems obvious, but did you know that listening also means asking the right questions sometimes?
When you’re hearing the other person out and ask questions that either lead the conversation forward or clarify things you didn’t understand fully, it shows that you are listening to them with intention – and are not just hearing them so you can get it over with until it’s your turn.
Even in situations when they present ideas that are bold, you can choose to respond instead of react. This allows them the time to state their piece without interrupting them because you feel provoked.
When you’re having to listen to someone say things that you don’t agree with, it’s important that you continue listening…
Instead of trying to change the way they talk, try and change the way you listen!
Tone policing, using your experience as the only marker, or playing devil’s advocate is entirely unnecessary and moves to invalidate the other person’s experience.
Lastly, if someone just wants to share, let them do just that. Try doing this without offering up solutions or judgments in return. No matter how compelling or how well-intentioned you think that might be. Talking about things that matter starts with listening.
2. Use empathy & compassion
Empathy might seem too far fetched or unattainable sometimes. Here are some things you can do to incorporate some compassion (without losing strength) in your argument:
- Choose to attack the argument, not the person putting it forward. Separate yourself and the other person from the points you’re presenting. This will ensure that you stay on topic without needlessly involving emotions and judgment.
- Listen & empathize, it doesn’t matter if they are the “enemy.” Putting your kindest foot forward won’t make you look weak (as some tend to believe), in reality it makes you look strong enough to be able to accompany your strength with kindness.
- The world is tough enough, you don’t need to criticize a person unless they ask you to. Everyone is their own worst critic and remembering that will immediately add more compassion to your tone of voice. Talk about things that matter, but let the person know that they matter too.
3. Be open to remaining open
It’s all in the name. Try and recollect a time that had an opinion that you thought would never change. Was it ever altered when new information came to light or circumstances changed?
We’ve all been there…
So while living with integrity is important, that mainly applies to values and not necessarily to opinions and judgments.
Views you have today can be subject to change and letting that happen just goes to show that you are brave enough to be open to criticism of yourself and your facts/sources.
Speak your heart and talk about things that matter, but accept that you don’t always know it all and are open to being challenged.
This applies to the people you speak to as well!
If they seem absolutely steadfast in their views, (a) it’s not always your job to change their mind, especially when you don’t feel up to it and (b) maybe sometimes agreeing to the possibility of eventually revisiting a conversation is the best option.
4. Separate your point of view from verified facts
As an extension of the previous point, make sure you clearly state that your expressions / opinions / thoughts / feelings are just that – yours.
This separates your statements as being different from facts.
If you do choose to share facts, however, note that the key distinction is that these statements come with verified sources that make up the majority of the information provided and is relevant to the context of the conversation – don’t be a ‘freeze peach’ (which is a fun way to group people who believe that saying anything and everything they want to say is their right to free speech).
5. Use trigger warnings
This is such an easy yet impactful way to be mindful of someone’s boundaries. There is so much, too much, going on in the world and we are all constantly exposed to information that we don’t necessarily want to be consuming.
Especially for people who have lived through trauma, this is an extremely tough predicament to be in. Trigger warnings are one of the most useful ways you can genuinely look out for people.
You have no idea what they have been through and if you know you’re going to be speaking /posting/writing about something that might infringe upon such topics, the least we can do is let people know.
Not only will this allow them to be more ready to take in the information, but also in the right space to engage with it.
6. Establish intent, ask for consent
When you want to talk about things that matter, no matter what medium you’re using to communicate, one of the basic things we could teach ourselves to establish is – “What is my intention?”
Do you just want to be heard? Or do you want the listener to help you find solutions? Do you just need a space to rant or argue? Are you trying to educate the listener or prove them wrong?
Now imagine a conversation where you make yourself and the listener aware of your intention, doesn’t that seem like a better place to start?
It’s important to get consent on your intent and the content of your speech.
If someone is not in the headspace to hear you rant or doesn’t want to be school-ed by you, then you’re better off trying another time and saving your breath!
Once you have that down, the next rung on the ladder of “self-awareness for conversations” is educating yourself.
Often, you will find people responding to statements on certain issues with the most basic questions (that can be answered in 0.06 seconds by a search engine). These are statements that might be bold, controversial or come from a typically marginalized populace.
People have enough to do!
It is not their job to educate you just because they are being vocal about an issue. It’s up to you to put in the work without expecting people to help you for free when you can get the answers to any questions you may have, by yourself.
This not only shows that you respect their time, but also their struggle. Who knows, you might end up learning a new thing or two.
7. Acknowledge your humanness and similarities
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t be ashamed, afraid or feel like you’d be letting your defenses down by establishing similarities or treating people with kindness.
Apart from the fact that the people you’re addressing will not (and should not) engage with someone who is attacking them, real courage lies in vulnerability and knowing where to draw the finish line.
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”– Brene Brown
It is the act of talking about things and sharing our journeys through which we begin to heal. Who knows what the world has in store for us?
We need to be able to talk about things that matter with the people around us.
Whether it’s politics, pandemics, patriarchy or the neighbor’s pie – if we can talk about things in a way that makes the person listening actually want to listen, then maybe we can start working together on the things that matter too… If you want to learn more about how to talk about things that matter and facilitate discussions that matter, take a look the Aristotle’s Cafe Facilitator Course and engage in some interesting small group discussions at Aristotle’s Cafe.
More about the Facilitator Course:
Become a master of leading small group discussions, understand what it means to be a process expert and learn how to use the skills from this course anywhere you find yourself in the world. Better yet, you will be able to create a community around leading discussions and have the ability to take yourself through your own journey of self-improvement and career success along the way. Sign up today if you are interested in mastering the art of facilitation!
More about Aristotle’s Cafe:
Our mission is to build a more tolerant and understanding society. We achieve this by creating safe spaces that allow people to come together to start having discussions that matter. Giving them the chance to be heard, to speak their mind, and to agree and disagree respectfully. Over the years we’ve seen deep friendships built between Christians & Muslims, Conservatives and Liberals, Rich and Poor. We have seen the wonderful ways in which people connect after having the opportunity to meet, and this drives us to continue our discussions in communities all over the world. Join us on Facebook or write to us to take part in the next facilitated discussion.
About the Author
Kavya Tadakaluri is a young female entrepreneur who aims to create an impact in India’s social sector. Her passions include working on LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and watching sunsets on the beaches of Chennai. She is also a fellow of the Amani Institute and an aspiring social impact consultant. Connect with Kavya to talk about all things social, here.