The Self-Awareness Guy

How to Talk about Charged Topics

There's a frequently recited adage that you shouldn't talk about religion and politics in polite company, advice created by people who don't know how to talk about charged topics without getting angry or hurt. The key to effective communication is for the participants to have the self-awareness to realize that other people's ideas, beliefs, values and opinions aren't necessarily an attack on their own, just another perspective. Here are some ideas that will help you talk about difficult issues in your personal or professional life:

  • Go in with good intentions. Keep an open mind and engage in the conversation with the idea that you're going to learn something and that you'll do everything you can to make sure things go well.
  • Assume the other person isn't trying to hurt you. Interact based on the premise that you're having a positive two-way conversation, not that you're walking into a life-threatening ambush.
  • Listen to the other person. Don't talk, interrupt or give your opinion, just listen actively and learn about the other person's point of view whether you agree with it or not.
  • Practice self-awareness. Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings and actions and manage them so you don't get angry or defensive.
  • Stay calm. Communication doesn't have to be a contact sport, it can be calm and pleasant.
  • Resist the urge to fight back. Increase your chances of interacting positively by keeping yourself under control.
  • Avoid participating in an argument. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to learn about another perspective instead of creating conflict.
  • Realize the other person's point of view is just a point of view. No matter what someone says, it doesn't mean that you have to change your values or beliefs.
  • Know when to back off. Sometimes people aren't ready or able to talk about a certain topic. Let them know you're available to talk when they're ready.

Individuals who understand and master these skills are able to talk about any issue because their communication style shifts from confrontational to actively listening to what other people are saying. Virtually nothing someone else says merits an explosive reaction unless you decide it does. The key to effective communication is to move from reacting viscerally to consciously working on listening, learning and getting along with the other person. What will you do to behave positively when you talk about charged topics?