People may disagree about what is the right thing to do and whose opinion is correct. Some folks are just plain argumentative. Others may be of good will, but we just have different fundamental views on life or values. The temptation is to retreat into our “tribes” or “bubbles” where folks agree with me. It may feel safer and more comfortable, but in a pluralistic society it doesn’t help us live well with those we disagree with. Consider these 8 steps for talking about controversial issues:

1. PICK YOUR PARTNER: Social scientists tell us that on a controversial issue about 15% of people have their opinions locked in with their identity. If their view is the extreme opposite of yours, nothing you say will be heard. They will just dismiss you. Don’t waste your time.

2. PREPARE TO LISTEN: Before you even start a difficult conversation:
Know your own stuff. Research the facts so you are not operating on misinformation.
   • Be aware of your own biases.
   • Think kindly of the other person. What part of their beliefs may be right? What are some of their strengths, good qualities…? What might they be afraid of? If you are a person of faith, call to mind that the other is also a child of God.
   • Pray – to listen well and clear your mind.
   • Finally, let go of wanting to prove you are right (even if you may be). You know your facts but don’t use them as a weapon. It won’t help.

3. LISTEN: This doesn’t just mean being quiet, but truly try to understand the other’s position. Try to put their points into your own words to check that you are hearing them well.

4. BUILD RELATIONSHIP: If you don’t already know each other well, get to know each other’s interests, family, hobbies, etc. What might you have in common?

5. SEEK COMMON GROUND: Before focusing on your differences, explore what elements on the issue you might both hold in common. (Example: We both want a safe environment for our children; or to help those living in poverty, or a fair justice system…We may differ on the best way to achieve these.)

6. EXPLORE YOUR DIFFERENCE: Probably best to limit this to one or two differences in the beginning.
   • The goal is not to convert the other to your position.
   • The goal is to understand the other better so that you can remain friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens.
   • The ultimate goal is to build a better/fairer society for the common good of all.

7. BRING AN ATTITUDE: When responding to a statement the other makes that you disagree with or that bothers you, resist the temptation to fight back. An attitude of receptive humility works better.
   • Christians, might ask yourself the classic question, “What would Jesus do?” He is known for both speaking truth to power but also being merciful.
   • For all, speak the truth as you understand it, but speak with respect. The bottom line is “What is the loving thing to do or say?”

8. PRACTICE: Several movements that can help are:
   • Braver Angels Focusses on political divides between liberals, conservatives and others.
   • Living Room Conversations provides guides in home or online conversations on over 100 controversial topics.
   • Civilize It includes a pledge and resources to help Catholics enter into respectful dialogue around civic virtues.
   • All Sides strengthens our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation
   • National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation is a network to bring people together across divides to tackle today’s challenges