You’ve seen it happen. It’s probably happened to you. And quite possibly you’ve returned the favor in some way.

You are trying to convey a message that is of utmost importance to you, but you can immediately detect the moment the wall goes up in the listener as effectively as if they had pushed a button and a solid steel door slams shut between you. They glaze over. Or get angry and defensive. Or they turn away.

That’s exactly what happens. A button gets pushed, even if you had no idea that you were pushing.

But the conversation never happens. No discussion ensues. It has been decided that you are not worth listening to and there is no further appeal option. A decision has been made.

This seems to be our new widespread communication style. Something as easy as a word or topic or idea is seen as not only not worth listening to, but now it’s an attack and must be shut down at all costs. It’s usually a trigger word that involves a specific group or topic: Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, gay marriage, abortion, immigration, needed change, opinion, healthcare, or something as simple as “I have another way of understanding that.”

We are threatened by what we view as opposition. We are afraid of a differing point of view. If it doesn’t fit with our preconceived notion of the way things “should be,” we are opposed to it. It’s wrong and must be destroyed.

It’s that kick in the gut feeling when we see a face on the news that we don’t like. We don’t move past it, we change the channel. Never mind what we might have learned or God forbid, even agreed with. Must. Be. Destroyed. Bam!

1. First establish a groundwork of a respectful relationship. Ask questions of the person who is in front of you. Find out what you agree on. Find things in common. Connect at the point of your common humanity, wherever it exists. Even if you don’t have a personal face to face encounter, you can still assume that they are human and have the same basic need for acceptance that you have. It’s much more difficult to spin on your heal and totally disregard someone that you respect and who respects you.

2. Understand that you do not have all the information. No you don’t. As humans, we form our opinions based on our background, our education, our relationships and our experience. Practically every day, there is new research being done, new “truths” being discovered, new evidence arising in absolutely every area. Most of us don’t/can’t keep up with everything and much of our belief system, particularly our reactivity, is drawn from the opinions and truths that we “know” from childhood.

3. Begin to recognize when you are triggered by a buzzword or topic or person, and don’t let that be the end of it. Become curious instead. First become curious about what it actually was that triggered you. Is there a belief that you are protecting such as All______________ are _______________? Everyone who voted for that party is narrow-minded or ignorant?

4. Turn that trigger into a question. What if what they were saying had some credibility? How would I respond if I agreed with them? I’m curious how someone I respect could hold that view; please tell me.

5. Respond with the intent to learn something. To get wiser. To add to your store of information. It will surely add to your own credibility and depth of knowledge, so you have a better chance of being heard, yourself, the next time.

The more reasonable we can be in conversation, the more relationship focused we can be, chances improve tremendously that our opinion will be heard in return and actual constructive changes can be made. Because you certainly aren’t going to win anybody over with hate.

Besides, hate and reactivity are not good for your health.

Just breathe…you’ve got this.

Marianne Clyde, your go-to source for employee engagement.

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