Is civil dialogue possible in the face of diametrically opposing views? Hilltoppers share the tools they use to engage in challenging conversations amid differing perspectives.
1. Diversify your sources.
Diversify your sources of information and whom you follow on social media. Think twice before following accounts that are designed to stoke outrage — ones that share attention-grabbing headlines or inflammatory video clips but offer little context.
2. Get off social media altogether.
Focus on making more time for face-to-face conversations.
3. Pause for 60 seconds.
When you’re in a tense conversation, in person or online, take a deep breath before you respond. In conversations about especially charged topics, Different Together facilitators pause for 60 seconds of silence after each speaker to let others process what they’ve heard.
4. Spend time thinking about your values.
Particularly for long-term dialogues — such as with a friend or family member — spend some time thinking about your own values before you engage the other person. What life experiences have shaped your views? How did you come to hold the beliefs you hold today?
5. Talk to strangers first.
Practice having conversations with strangers before you try talking politics with Uncle Jake at Thanksgiving. Look for events hosted by groups similar to Different Together — try Braver Angels and the BetterArguments Project.
6. Practice active listening.
“You need to set aside your own biases when you’re listening to another perspective, and you need to actually absorb what the person is saying in order to give a constructive response,” Emma Viquez '23 says.
7. Check your assumptions.
Everyone makes snap judgments based on the hidden biases we hold. Ask yourself about the assumptions you’re making about the person you’re talking with or the group you’re learning about. What are they based on? Can you verify whether they’re accurate?
8. You're not required to engage.
Remember that you’re not required to engage with Uncle Jake — or anyone who is being disrespectful or insulting. “Show grace,” Chris Collins '04 says. “But if you extend grace to somebody, and that person doesn’t return it, then they have just isolated themselves from a meaningful connection. That’s the choice they have made.”
9. Have compassion for yourself.
Have compassion for yourself as well as the other person. “When you don’t judge yourself as harshly, you can be open to not judging others harshly,” says Walter C. Long '14. “You can step into their shoes and try to experience things the way they do.”
Written By Robyn Ross
Illustrations by Brian Stauffer
Bridging the Divide: Hilltopper Stories
In an era of record political polarization, it’s hard to have a constructive conversation with a person who holds different views. St. Edward’s is breaking the impasse by building graduates’ ability to hold peaceful, respectful conversations with those who disagree.
In Bridging the Divide, we spotlight five members of the university community who are helping Americans replace toxic conflict with constructive disagreement.