Discussing Controversial Topics

At any given time, there are controversial issues around the world. Current world events that have a wide range of perspectives include the situations in Ferguson, MO with the recent grand jury decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson, the Egyptian judge’s decision to drop all charges against former President Mubarak, the mass kidnappings in Mexico, and many other events.

Thoughtfully engaging in these conversations, particularly at work, requires being mindful, socially aware, and educated on the wide range of opinions. Most importantly, it requires active listening—actually hearing what others are saying—and seeking to understand other’s viewpoints.

Some tips for being an inclusive person and having the ability to thoughtfully discuss controversial topics are:

1. Seek to understand: Ask a lot of questions to better understand others’ viewpoints. Ask respectfully and with the intent to truly understand others’ experiences and perspective.

2. Listen actively: Pay very close attention. Lean into the conversation with eye contact and nonverbal language. Seek to understand and ensure you are hearing what the other person is saying. Do not plan your response while the other person is talking.

3. Dig deeper. Go on an authentic journey. Ask probing questions. Ask about experiences that will help you understand a different viewpoint. Meet others who share varying perspectives.

4. Diversify your friends. Look at the people you spend the majority of your time with—are they similar to you and do they share the same viewpoints? Purposefully develop relationships with people who aren’t like you and who have very different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

5. Educate yourself on the topic. Read articles and books that highlight various perspectives. Read historical content to understand current context. Visit museums and watch documentary movies to better understand the subject.

6. Diversify your media. Watch various news sources, including independent news programs. Stay connected via social media with sites that offer a variety of perspectives. Evaluate the information you receive on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If the posts aren’t varied in perspectives, enlarge your circle of friends to include differing perspectives. Realize that some items and sources may not be completely factual.

7. Connect with the community. Attend or create community discussions. Run for a local office position.

8. Practice proactive inclusion. If you see situations that aren’t inclusive, speak up and say something about the situation. Don’t wait for others to comment on it. Take action yourself.

As we searched for information about how to have thoughtful conversations about controversial topics, an associate shared this sign that is posted in an elementary school. It has great tips that apply to children and adults.

Think before your speak.

Before you text, tweet, type, speak or share –

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspiring?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

Before you criticize, before you complain;

Before you share, before you proclaim.

Taking an active interest in current events by understanding all sides to an issue helps each of us become more inclusive, aware, and action oriented.