There’s a stereotypical story of married couples that you’re probably familiar with. The wife has had a bad day, so she goes to her husband to tell him about it. Her husband, being wired to fix problems, shows his love to his wife by offering solutions. The wife gets frustrated. Why is she frustrated? Because she doesn’t want her problems fixed! She wants sympathy! Click on the video below for a short, hilarious example of this stereotype.
Part of the stereotype is that the desire to have your feelings affirmed is a “woman thing,” but it’s really not. It’s a human thing. No one wants to be perceived as stupid or irrational, so it gives us a feeling of safety when we are told that our feelings are reasonable, understandable, and even appropriate.
This year I decided to try to constantly affirm the feelings of pro-choice people in my conversations without being dishonest. It is the best change I have made to my approach to dialogue in a long time. People don’t change their minds if they feel combative instead of emotionally safe, or defensive instead of receptive. [Tweet that!] Actively affirming the pro-choice person’s feelings is an incredibly effective way to help them know that they are safe to honestly question their beliefs. For some people, I’d even go so far as to say that having their earnest, deeply held feeling acknowledged is a prerequisite to them being able to actually argue about the issue.
I asked Rebecca Haschke from Justice For All to join me for a practical dialogue tips session at the 2017 Students for Life of America conference in D.C. so that we could spend the last part of the session doing a mock dialogue!
Josh Brahm – Tip 1: Ask Lots of Clarification Questions – 00:00
Josh Brahm – Tip 2: Don’t Make Arguments with Question Marks – 05:25
Rebecca Haschke – Tip 3: Listen to Understand – 08:03
Rebecca Haschke – Tip 4: Find Genuine Common Ground When Possible – 22:51
Josh Brahm and Rebecca Haschke – Mock Dialogue – 28:05
Are you frustrated with political polarization? Have you noticed that conversations between the opposite ends of the political spectrum are getting harder and harder? Do you wonder why it has gotten so ugly, and do you wish you could do something about it?
The human mind is naturally ordered toward making sense of things. It wants to come up with explanations. When we observe something we don’t understand, we go through a mental process of thinking about possible explanations for it. This is something you can dwell on consciously, but even if you don’t, you come to basic conclusions without even thinking about it.
For any weird phenomenon, there are many possible explanations. How do we narrow down the list to settle on something to believe? There’s no perfect formula for this, but there are some healthy tendencies that we should all have. For instance, Occam’s Razor (Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected) is a good place to start. Also, we should seek explanations that explain all of the data, not just some of it. There are certainly other principles of rationality for evaluating the plausibility of various explanations, but there is one in particular that is severely underrated. I think anyone who adopts it will have more accurate beliefs and much better dialogue and understanding of people with whom they disagree.
You can’t dialogue well about abortion or anything else unless you learn to listen well. It should be obvious to anyone that if you want to listen well you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of a sentence. Something much less obvious is that you shouldn’t interrupt people when they’re in the middle of an important thought. An excellent listener should develop both the wisdom to recognize and the patience to allow space for a thinking pause.
There are two types of pauses that can take place after someone finishes talking: 1) a conclusion pause, and 2) a thinking pause. A conclusion pause takes place when the person has concluded his statement and is ready for you to jump in with your thoughts. A thinking pause takes place when the person hasn’t actually concluded; when he intends to continue but needs to stop to think.
The problem is that these types of pauses strongly resemble each other. When someone needs a five to ten second pause in between sentences, he doesn’t usually tell you, “Hang on, give me a second to formulate my thought.” You can’t count on everyone to be that articulate of a communicator.
Jacob Nels is the Operations Coordinator at Equal Rights Institute. One of the most important things Jacob brings to the table at ERI is his expertise in gracious dialogue, particularly with people who are post-abortive and abortion-minded. In addition to putting those skills to good use at college campus outreaches, Jacob has a regular presence outside an abortion clinic as a sidewalk counselor and has had the joy of helping many women, men, and children leave the clinic alive and whole.
Jacob Nels sidewalk counseling in Georgia
A few years ago I watched a black sedan pull into the parking lot of an abortion clinic. A man and a woman got out and walked up to the clinic, ignoring my attempts to engage them. After the man walked her into the clinic, he came back to his car for something. Raising my voice to carry across the parking lot separating us, I tried again to start a conversation with him. I said,
Jacob: Hey, man! I know this is a hard day. No one really wants to be here. I’m here if you want to talk.
Ross: I’m not for this. I don’t like it.
Jacob: What do you mean? Would you tell me your story?
To show my respect and friendship, I did something that almost always works with other men. There is a white line painted on the sidewalk that I cannot legally cross. Pressing my toes to the line, I extended my hand to the man and said,