Updated: Oct 26, 2019
You know those moments: A tense family dinner when dad and uncle don't quite see eye-to-eye. A coffee house and a conversation about politics. A late night in a living room, when some of the more meaty points of theology or philosophy arise... and then erupt. We've all been in the middle of one of these kinds of exchanges, where friends become foes and acquaintances become adversaries. Even if you aren't the confrontational type, you probably know what it's like to be the "collateral damage" just by your proximity to the argument and the pressure to "choose a side".
Is there any way to avoid this? Or maybe we could just better navigate these moments and still stay friendly? Maybe, just maybe, if done right, we could even grow - dare I say - closer. How is that even possible you ask? I'll give you three questions that I use personally:
1. "What Do you Mean By That?"
This first question alone would stop most unnecessarily explosive exchanges in their tracks. Think about it. How many times have you gone round and round with a loved one angrily, only to realize that you both misunderstood one another from the beginning. Either one or even both parties usually end up with their foot in their mouths and embarrassed because they probably hurled a personal insult along the way in their frustration. Or maybe you just spent the last 20 minutes waxing eloquent on what you thought was a brilliant response to what you thought they said, only to turn a shade or two red when you learn how off base you really were. You should've listened first.
Scripture reminds us to "be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger."
2. "How Did You Come to That Conclusion?"
This is a truly beautiful question to ask and it does a couple of things at once:
First, it shows if people have done their research or if it's just all talk. You'll also learn if they're just rallying to their particular "tribe", or if they actually have some perspective to add that holds value. Now, let's also be fair. Not everyone is (very few actually are) equipped to speak, debate and formulate at an academic level. The point is you'll learn if they've really given this subject some thought or merely their emotions.
Second, you'll discover who holds authority in their lives. Who they listen to, watch and learn from matters. You can know what someone's led to believe when you find out who they follow.
3. "Why Are you So Passionate About This Topic?"
While emotions should never be the only reason someone believes a certain way, it is inescapable that they do play a role. Part of belief is emotional. Otherwise, you wouldn't get emotional if someone disagreed with you. Don't miss the opportunity to find out the why behind the what. Questioning the underlying passion that drives someone else's beliefs is one of the most genuine, honoring questions that can be asked. This is the question that says, "I care about why you care about this. I want to hear your story."
Questions. Lead with questions - the right questions. Questions that show you care about the other person themselves and what they actually think about a given topic. I've heard it said that, "Being interested... is interesting." These three powerful and proven questions disarm most easily offended spirits and allow for the possibility of a healthy exchange - provided the other person is at least half-way reasonable.
What do you think?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Tell us how this post helped you. Or tell us what we missed. Also, feel free to let us know which topics you'd like us to cover in the future.
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