When it comes to contentious issues, we rarely have genuine conversations regarding them. Most “conversations” are just opportunities for each person to express their own point of view. Neither person does much listening to the other, and neither expects to learn anything from the exchange. Their only goal is to declare their point of view, and perhaps convince the other person in the process.

This is not a good approach. We should come to every conversion believing that the other person has something to offer. We should be listening, not just making points. After all, we could be wrong in what we believe, wrong about particular facts, etc. Our “opponent” may actually have insights that we could benefit from, so we should be open and ready to be corrected if necessary.

Conversation should not be a contest of intellects, but a pursuit of the truth. Unfortunately, people are resistant to acknowledging that they are wrong. They want to appear smart and save face. To avoid this, you could start off the conversation by saying something like, “I don’t see this as a contest or intellectual battle. My goal is simply the truth. I’ll give you my reasons for what I believe, and then you can critique them. If you have a good point, I’ll give you credit for it and consider it. I hope you’ll do the same. When this is over, perhaps we’ll both have something to think about.”

Commonly, while one person is talking the other person is thinking about how they will respond rather than focusing on what the person is saying. One tactic to avoid this and get your “opponent” to focus on your argument is to say, “Let me explain my way of thinking on this. When I am done, perhaps you can summarize what I’ve said so that I know I have communicated my view to you sufficiently.”

Here are some other tips for an engaging conversation as opposed to a contest of minds:

  • Ask a lot of questions. Get clarity on both what your opponent believes, as well as why he believes it.
  • Keep calm. The minute you start raising your voice or get angry, everyone loses.
  • Do not dominate the conversation. Give your opponent equal time to speak.
  • Do not interrupt. This can be difficult if you are engaging someone who likes to dominate the conversation, however. To avoid this, address the issue in advance. Perhaps you could say, “Nobody likes to be interrupted. If you can agree to speak for just a minute or two and then let me respond, I will not interrupt you while you are speaking. And I’ll extend the same courtesy to you. Agreed?”

If you practice these tips, your conversations will be more fruitful.

If you have additional tips to offer, please share them in the comments.