how to talk to people

We are broken… Our nation. Our political system. The individual heart.

Friends, if we are going to actually craft solution, it will not come by drowning others out, winning “one more to our tribe,” nor employing any rules for radicals. If we are going to address our ballooning brokenness, there is one thing we must each start to do…

We must learn how to talk to people. 

We think we learned it long ago. We tend to think we’re actually good at it. And yet we then tend to focus most of our communication telling someone else what they need to do. No wonder social media has become such a conversational mine field… “You don’t agree with me? Well, then something must be wrong with you.”

That’s not a conversation, friends. It’s also not healthy. If I can focus my primary energy on how others need to change, then I never have to examine me. In fact, if I can find more wrong in you, change in me is irrelevant and actually unnecessary. Hence, we remain corporately and individually broken.

How then should we talk to people?

Step one: assume a humble posture.

Who wants to hear the arrogant? Who is inspired to change or self-reflect when ego and pride are screaming at you? Is such effective in regard to heart change? Solution?

How many times do we say, “I just have to say…” or “I’ve had it…” or “I’m not going to take it anymore…” Who is the subject of each of those sentences? I, me, my, myself. When we are the focus of our own monologues, thinly veiled as wisdom for a watching world, we aren’t very good teachers, leaders, encouragers, nor role models; we’re not even great friends. We’re also often looking down on someone. If we’re looking down on someone, then often at least for me, I’m doing the exact thing I’m imploring another not to do.

Hence, in what we say and how we say it, it starts with a humble posture — not an offensive or defensive position or anything ready to pounce. Simply embrace humility always. 

Step two: listen more than you speak.

We have been lured into believing life is a series of binary choices… “If you’re not with me, you’re against me…” left, right… black, white… good, bad… That lure then allows us to conclude that there are only two sides to a situation — plus, if you’re not on the same side as me, then you must be wrong. There are 360° in a circle and thus multiple perspectives. Always. We will never discover such if we’re busy doing all the talking, screaming, shouting and shaming. Someone thinks differently than you? Ask them why. Outrageous, it seems? Ask questions. Seek to understand. When we refuse to listen, we are the ones who are stuck.

Step three: employ respect. 

When I set out to establish “The Intramuralist” 12 years ago, the idea was spurred on through interactions with a dear friend with whom I often disagreed. We would come to the table with different thoughts and beliefs in our heads and hearts; we would share, push back, sometimes shake our heads a bit, and often say, “Help me understand.” And while it wasn’t always easy, that sincere exchange doesn’t happen unless we are respecting one another. “We may not think the same, but I respect you. I value you.” If the person on the other side of the table doesn’t feel valued by you, why would they have any desire to think more like you? Hence, without respect, crafting solution is impossible.

Step four: engage in self-examination.

A wise new friend encouraged me in a profound way last week. In regard to the current racial tension, he encouraged me (each of us, really) to look “first in the mirror and then out the window.” In other words, if we are going to be part of the solution, first we need to examine self… What attitudes have I held or behaviors have I exhibited that have contributed to looking down on another?Do I tolerate everyone but the intolerant? Then I’m intolerant… Do I respect everyone but those who disagree with me? Then I’m not respectful… Self-examination is vital. Then look out the window; be mindful of people who don’t look like me. Again, seek to understand and empathize.

And step five: rinse and repeat.

Learning how to talk to people is not a one-time course nor something to be checked off our latest list. It’s not a collegiate Gen Ed that we can take once and be done with; it is in no way Communication 101. In fact, with social media often serving as a place encouraging all the unfortunate, exact opposite, my sense is that these steps must be regularly reviewed. 

But make a mistake? Fall prey to insult or disrespectful retorts? You let someone “deserving” finally have it? Rinse… feel some forgiveness. Maybe even ask for forgiveness, as we’re all in this together.

Then repeat. Again and again and again.

It starts with a humble posture.