How to Discuss Differences – With More Ease

by | Apr 25, 2024 | Healthy Relationships

It can be challenging to know how to discuss differences around heated topics, especially when the relationship is important to us.  We don’t want to feel separated from people we love, and we so often prefer to be on the same page, seeing things the same way.

However, learning how to discuss differences can be a beautiful building block for more trust, more connection and more intimacy in our relationships.  On the podcast this week, a caller asked about how to have a difficult conversation with her fiancé about differing political beliefs, and we dove into some of the nuances of those conversations.

No matter what viewpoints and opinions we find ourselves fielding, here are some of my tips for navigating your next difficult conversation with more grace and ease:

How to Discuss Differences: Key Steps

Imagine, for example, that you and your housemate/roommate/spouse have different feelings about having a gun in your home.

  1. Start with a concrete observation that helps you begin from a place of shared reality.  “I heard you say that you believe we’d all be safer if everyone had a gun in their home, is that right?”  You’re looking for an opening that the other person would agree to.  So, if they say, “Yes, that’s right” you can go to the next step.  If however, they say, “No, that’s not exactly what I said or meant,” then ask them for more information and repeat it back accurately until you get to the “yes.” You’re looking for a moment that you can both ground the rest of the conversation upon.
  2. Reveal and Request (don’t declare and drop): Then share something about how this impacts you and end with a question that allows for a weaving of the conversation between both of you.  “I feel uneasy and anxious when I imagine guns in everyone’s homes, and especially ours.  It’s not something that I can imagine would help me feel safer, but rather more vulnerable. Tell me more about how you feel and how you see that working differently.”  The key move here is to reveal what is important to you, and to invite what is important to them (as opposed to just declare and drop.)
  3. Receive and Repeat the other viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it. Fully take in what the other person then has to say, and receive it by repeating back your understanding of what they are saying.  It might sound something like:  “OK, so your concern is more about people having the power to defend themselves against intruders into their homes, and wanting to make sure that all people have the power to protect themselves in their homes – am I getting that right?”  This is the perfect opportunity to embrace diversity when you find it.  We can connect with each other even when we don’t feel the same way, by finding a common need – in this case, perhaps the need for protection or safety or empowerment.  Even if we have different ways of getting there, we like share the desire for safety, security, protection and empowerment.
  4. Make your “line in the sand” visible to your conversation partner, and ask them about theirs.  “I know for myself, that I would feel much more anxiety and vulnerability living with a gun in my house, and I absolutely would not choose that for myself.  How important is it to you to HAVE a gun in the home, or is your interest more around people theoretically being allowed to have one should they want to?”
  5. Avoid win/loss scenarios by inviting a creative both/and solution to emerge.  Look for strategies that honor both people.  “I’d love to find a way that we could feel empowered, safe and secure in the home given that we have such different feelings about guns. Could we try to figure out a way of approaching this that might work for us both?”  Here, it can be important to be willing to sit with the discomfort and tension between opposites and to wait yourself and the other person out to see if anythings shifts naturally and intrinsically for either of you.  One person might be willing to have a gun in garage, but not the house.  The other person might be willing to have a bat under the bed instead of a gun in the house.  Make space for creative solutions that could world for both people to arise. Sometimes this takes time.  The key here however is that neither person feels like they are “just submitting” resentfully to the other person, but rather that both people come to an agreement from a place of genuine care for themselves and one another.
  6. Surrender to “What Is:” If no common solution can be found, you may need to acknowledge the sadness and loneliness that arises when differences result in separation instead of connection.  “It sounds like we have reached a bit of an impasse: I am unwilling to live with a gun in my house, and you’re unwilling to live without having a gun within easy reach and access. What options do you see for us from this place? Do we explore living in separate homes from here?”

If you’d like to listen to the conversation that inspired this blog post, you can check out the entire podcast.  

Here’s what you’ll find:

  • 1:17  I’m concerned about my fiancé’s political views
  • 6:09  A roadmap for discussing differences:  observations
  • 12:01  Making our invisible lines visible for others
  • 22:50  Ways to involve kids in the conversation about their behavior
  • 26:22  A tip for helping a child choose healthy strategies
  • 39:06  When is it a boundary and when is it coercion?
  • 37:26  Prioritizing the relationship above the behavior
  • 41:23  What can I do when I’m frozen in an active power struggle?
  • 54:13  What about adults who throw tantrums like children?

Want more to read on constructive ways for discussing differences?  Check out Disarming Conversations.

If you like the podcast, please consider leaving me a rating and a review so that I can support more people like you, looking to have open-hearted, honest and authentic conversations with others. ​Click here​, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars, and select ​“Write a Review.” ​Then be sure to let me know what you loved most about the episode!

What is it difficult for you to discuss differences?  What has helped?

I’d love to know.  Leave a comment below.

2 Comments

  1. Bren Hardt

    I find the conversations tha you have the most powerfully instructive of any I have listening to in my 75 plus years on this planet! Your way of wording things improves on the way Marshall Rosenberg did. It is also a delight when you do repeat one of his humorous or startling way of expressing a CONCEPT. I recommend your podcast to everyone in my life without any hesitation. I am also so grateful for the positive and compassionate Energy tha is so abundant in the tone of your voice with all callers.

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