Recognizing the Humanity in Each Other One Conversation at a Time:

Recognizing the Humanity in Each Other One Conversation at a Time

💬 Recognizing the Humanity in Each Other One Conversation at a Time:

How Can We Communicate Across Differences and Begin to Build Bridges?

How might we build bridges across conflict and contrasting viewpoints, while recognizing our shared humanity?

It can be hard to have conversations with people across differences and contrasting viewpoints. And if we’re going to have conversations with people holding different perspectives and experiences than ourselves, how might we honor each person’s humanity, and help build bridges toward trust, communication, and community?

Many of us don’t have the tools to navigate life’s difficult conversations. Recently, I’ve been trying to learn more about ways to engage with others in conversations across differences. In this article I will share some of what I’m learning.

🌻 One point is crystal clear. Good communication involves actively listening, not just speaking. Rule of thumb: Listen more, speak less.

Psychologist Carl Rogers, PhD, (1961) taught that real communication occurs when we attempt to listen with understanding rather than evaluating others from our own perspective. This involves “understanding with a person, not about him,” (p. 332) trying to understand the other person’s frame of reference regarding what they are sharing. According to Rogers and Farson (1987), when we listen effectively, we convey to the other person that we respect their thoughts, even if we don’t agree – that we think they are worth listening to, offering space so that they feel they can talk with us. It’s important to note that people are more likely to comprehend that we are trying to understand them by observing how we behave, not simply by what we say.

Building relationships – human connection – is key to communicating across differences. It’s important to ask thoughtful questions with the intent to truly listen and understand. In other words, reframing our stance from convincing others about what we want toward a stance of wanting to learn more about them. Asking about, listening to, and trying to learn about their story.

Recognizing the Humanity in Each Other One Conversation at a Time:

For example, we might ask:

  • What do you believe about this?
  • What has influenced you to have these beliefs?
  • How does this affect you?
  • What do you still wonder about this?
  • What would you like me to understand about this?
  • What do you wish would be different?
  • What, if anything, do you feel hopeful about?

For many of us, conversations across differences may feel very challenging. It can help to notice when we are feeling reactive, to try not to take things personally, and to reduce harshly judging and resenting others. Since we’re fallible humans, rather than robots, this may not be an easy task! And if we find that we’re feeling emotionally triggered by hurtful, disrespectful, aggressive, or otherwise difficult comments or situations, we may need to disconnect or walk away

In addition to active listening, these strategies may help us buffer our reactions and communicate more effectively across differences and contrasting viewpoints.

1. Responding from a stance of curiosity and avoiding making assumptions. For example:

  • That’s interesting, can you clarify where you’re coming from?
  • Could you tell me more about that?
  • What do I need to understand about this?

Of course, responding with curiosity is not always easy!

2. Trying to be aware in a more balanced way.  During difficult conversations we may feel stirred up in any number of ways – vulnerable, misunderstood, angry, rejected, hurt, tender, infuriated, etc. Mindfulness offers practices to help ourselves slow down, and notice our experiences with curiosity, wisdom, and care (Shapiro, 2020; King, 2018; Siegel, 2010).

Renowned Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh (2010), reminds us that life is the here and now, and that mindfulness is as simple as noticing our breathing – I am breathing in, I am breathing out.

Here are examples of mindfulness strategies that may help you ground yourself with greater calm and refocus with less tendency to be swept away by judgements.

✨ Mindfulness Practice 1:

  • Choose to pause and settle.
  • Create a brief “intermission” by finding your breath wherever you notice it, or another anchor that feels comfortable to you, such as your feet touching the ground or the sensations in your hands.
  • Kindly invite yourself to notice how you’re feeling and reacting. Are you feeling compassion and understanding – or are you feeling stirred up, stressed, angry, emotionally overwhelmed, or afraid? Is your heart beating quickly or do you feel heat rising in your body or mind? If you are able to, you might simply label the feeling – anger, fear, compassion, love, hurt, etc.
  • If you need to, you might decide to remove yourself from the interaction.
  • As you are ready, you might choose to continue the conversation in the moment with greater balance and calm. Or you might decide to walk away briefly to collect your thoughts, or schedule another meeting at an alternate time/place.

✨ Mindfulness Practice 2: This simple practice may be useful in the moment to help you calm and refocus:

Recognizing the Humanity in Each Other One Conversation at a Time:

3 – Softening our hearts. Softening is about easing our judgments, creating more flexibility, and opening our hearts. Recognizing that we’re all part of humanity and live in the same world can invite an inner softening and greater clarity. As individuals, we cannot force others to change their minds. But by learning to accept conflict, differences, and our shared humanity, we can help build bridges toward clearer understandings and change.

4 – Reflecting and learning. After a conversation, it’s often helpful to take a few moments to reflect on your experience and how the conversation unfolded.

  • What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the other person?
  • What did you learn about the situation?
  • What might you do, or how might you want to be present differently next time?

5 – Continuing to courageously learn and develop. Consider talking with people you trust about ways to engage in difficult conversations across differences. Read about related topics to learn more. Get involved in a study/discussion group, support group, or other resources to help you learn more about ways to have difficult conversations or about important topics.

In conclusion, to communicate across differences and begin to build bridges, it’s essential to actively listen to each other. Communication can happen one conversation at a time and can offer opportunities for learning and development. We are each part of a larger whole, living in one world that we all inhabit and share. Recognizing the humanity in each of us is a precursor to communication, change, and repairing the brokenness in this world. Communicating and building bridges can begin with one person at a time.

😊 Each of us can make a difference.
An earlier version of this article was published at Psychology Today.

© 2024 Ilene Berns-Zare, LLC, All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or healthcare professional.

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