In an increasingly polarized world, it is more important than ever to be able to listen to the opinions of others, even if we disagree with them. Listening to opposing views lets us gain insights and understanding into why people think the way they do. This in turn enables us to have more meaningful conversations that allow us to reach a better mutual understanding.
To do this well, it’s important to come into the conversation with an open mind, and a genuine willingness to consider another point of view.
To become a better listener, start by consciously choosing to remain open-minded. Recognize that there may be some truth in the other person’s perspective, even if you disagree with it. Start by acknowledging their viewpoint, and try not to dig your heels in on your own opinion. Instead, probe further. Ask questions that encourage a deeper exploration of their position. This approach will enable you to identify common ground and build bridges between two perspectives.
Another important listening skill is active listening. This involves fully engaging your attention and trying to understand not only what is being said, but also how it is being said. Look for nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or gestures for additional insight into the speaker’s feelings about their own words and message. Demonstrate that you hear what they are saying by repeating back key elements of what has been said, or summarizing points made so far. This lets both sides have a clear understanding of one another’s views.
This practice also means not attacking the other person’s views, or belittling them in any way. Instead, actively listen and focus on understanding their feelings and perspective. To do this, ask open-ended questions that encourage deeper discussion, rather than questions that challenge their opinion or ignite further argument. It’s also helpful to suspend judgment on the other person’s beliefs until you understand why they hold them.
Finally, actively practice empathy when listening to someone with an opposite view. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how they came to reach those conclusions or form those beliefs. Doing this will give you invaluable insight into different perspectives without having to agree with them, and is essential for respectful dialogue.
Be sure to remain respectful during the conversation regardless of how strongly you disagree with what they are saying. By listening carefully and asking thoughtful questions, we can learn more about others’ experiences and gain insight into different perspectives.
Ultimately, different perspectives are needed and healthy. As we continue to encourage honest respectful discussions, while practicing that respect ourselves, then we will find that as we give respect, we also gain respect.