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GUVERCIN: People need to communicate dissenting opinions effectively

Opinions Column: The Bigger Picture

As the world is currently struggling with a tense and polarizing political and social atmosphere, people have been tested with a significant issue: communication. By analyzing prominent historical eras and events, we are able to recognize that communication has consistently been utilized as an outlet for aggression and defense rather than a tool for progress — this past year has been no different. As society begins to deal with more complex issues, it engenders a greater necessity for people to learn how to express and consider opinions effectively. Rather than arguing for the sake of proving a point or criticizing someone with a different perspective, humanity as a whole must strive to argue for the sake of understanding and progress. 

Stanford SPARQ executive director Dr. Alana Conner provides a useful algorithm that outlines seven important steps on “how to discuss your differences with others." The technique called “CLARIFY” stands for Check your motives, Listen, Ask, Repeat, use I-statements, Find common ground, and adopt a “Yet” perspective. Before one intends to engage in a dialogue with someone, Conner asserts that it is pivotal to identify one’s motives and decide whether they are negative or positive. We must shift our intentions from competition, defense and humiliation to empathy, understanding and learning in order to engage in effective dialogue with somebody. 

Active listening, asking and repetition also play fundamental roles in communication as they make the opposite person feel valued and allow you to comprehend the angle at which the other person is approaching the issue. Using “I” statements is also a mode of effective communication because they are not attempting to justify your statements as universal truths, but merely your perspective on things. They also make statements less provocative and less prone to transform into hostile arguments. For instance, it is much more effective to say “I feel that some of the statements you are making are very discriminatory and unjustified because … ” rather than “You are a disgusting bigot!” Furthermore, identifying shared beliefs and verbally pointing out areas of commonality is a highly practical method of connecting with a person who you initially assumed to be very different from you. Finally, Conner encourages people to adopt a “yet” mindset, as in continuing to communicate until you develop more understanding for that person and feel as if you gained something valuable, even if you are not there “yet." 

As Americans, we are truly fortunate to be able to express our opinions freely. There are many people in the world who do not have this privilege. With that in mind, it is vital for us not to abuse this power and strive to create an environment where different values are welcomed and utilized as a means of social progression. It is a harrowing to think that we may have missed out on countless opportunities in our lives for valuable and informative dialogue because we were simply looking to defend our own stances. Communication is useless when it is not utilized to connect with others or gather something from them, which is why mindless argument is a very pointless and costly action. We are surrounded by people with different religions, ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences that we can gain something valuable from, even if those differences are not things we are willing to incorporate into our lives. By subjecting our own values and opinions to critical assessment through proactive debate, we may come to enlightening realizations that can benefit our own lives as well as those of the people around us.

It is not easy to look straight into someone’s eyes when they are making claims that every moral fiber in your body disagrees with. It is not easy to act respectful to someone who has expressed hatred toward one of your fundamental beliefs. It is not easy to control your emotions when people assume authority over a concept that they have no experience with but that you know the struggle of all too well. But, when we adjust our mindsets and approach people who are different from us with a goal to show them another perspective, empathize with them, learn from them and even potentially identify some sound arguments that they are presenting, we effectively establish a channel through which valuable dialogue can be exchanged. The more people who incorporate these techniques and mindsets into their lives, the more welcoming and progressive an atmosphere we can develop for our future generations. When we are able express our opinions rationally, we teach our children to do the same. 

Hence, the next time you are about to converse with someone who holds values distinct from yours, using Dr. Conner’s technique as a point of reference, make sure to begin and end with a rational, positive and intelligent attitude. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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