5 Tips for Having Divisive Conversations

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Woman in teal dress sitting and talking with man.

In our latest episode, “Mic Drop: Divisive Conversations,” Cyrus Rad talks about his program ‘Civic Conversations’ which encourages people of different opinions to talk about difficult topics. From the political to the personal, people gather to discuss, explain and learn the different views on the topics. We asked Cyrus to give his best tips on fostering healthy and productive conversations and distilled his answers into 5 quick tips. Be sure to listen to the episode to hear his full interview!

Tip #1) Have a good environment:

  • Don’t put someone on the spot. The people who show up to the event know what they are getting into and are able to prepare mentally and socially to explain their views. 
  • Everyone drives conversation. This means each person gets an equal chance to state their point of view without being interrupted, and prevents one person from dominating the conversation.

Tip #2) Go past the issue:

  • The point of the forum is to understand why someone developed the point of they have, and to humanize “the other side”. To do this, understanding a person’s life and what led them to their opinions is key. Finding out where they are from, family background, and  values can all go very far in getting past the issue to the person. If you feel stuck you could even just ask the other person why the believe a specific point.

Tip #3) Listening:

  • This is the most important point because none of this functions without genuine and honest listening. The intent to listen to hear and not just to respond is so important in empathizing with other people. 

Tip #4) Share your story:

  • Be open to sharing your story and perspective. Once the other person knows more about you and you them you will be able to connect. Being vulnerable can be difficult, so this can take practice to perfect, but in the end everyone benefits much more from the experience.

Tip #5) Find common ground:

  • Any similarities between people will definitely ease the way of the conversation and help to build bridges across differences. These can be as simple as shared experiences and interests or maybe even some points you agree about regarding the topic of discussion. It’s helpful to establish this common ground early one.

Bonus Super Tip: 

  • Don’t come to win. The point is not to win an argument or even to make any sort of point, just simply to share and listen. Vulnerability and a genuine desire to learn is what makes the experience, and hopefully these will carry over into the difficult conversations had in the real world. 


Written By

Nyawira NyotaStudent Worker E-mail Nyawira Agricultural & Human Sciences
NC State Extension, NC State University
Updated on Feb 3, 2020
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