Can You Be Uncensored and Respectful?

When you hear the phrase, “today’s political climate,” what comes to mind? Hostility? A country divided? Voter engagement? Grassroots movement? Crazy Town?

I’m NOT here to make a political statement. However, with the upcoming mid-term elections and the constant news coverage about the politics in our country, I found the latest book from The Next Big Idea Club, Uncensored by Zachary R. Wood, just what I needed! This book was really helpful in reminding me of the importance of truly trying to understand another person’s perspective.

I’ve noticed that I primarily spend time reading and watching programs that confirm what I already believe and dive deeper into my perspectives and beliefs. This only makes the divide grow larger.

While it’s impossible for everyone to agree, and not what I would want, (how boring would that be?),  I’m reminded of the need to have PRODUCTIVE debate and discussion. This applies to disagreements and conflicts in the workplace as well.

The only way to enable that is to have uncomfortable conversations with those with whom we THINK we have little to nothing in common.

The author, Zachary Wood, is an Assistant Editor at The Atlantic and former president of a controversial student group Uncomfortable Learning at Williams College. Being a member of The Next Big Idea Club, Zachary shares his special reading guide, “How to Have Difficult Conversations in 9 Steps”. I’d like to highlight what resonated most with me from his 9-step approach.

Think about how you can apply this in situations where there are differing opinions.  How can you keep your bias in check and gain a better understanding of another perspective?

Actively prepare to engage in a productive discussion

This requires some introspective work and increases your self-knowledge, particularly your understanding of certain biases, impulses, and tendencies that may arise when you engage with someone you disagree.  ASK YOURSELF:

  • Why does this matter to me?
  • Why does this issue raise strong emotions for me in ways that discussing trivial things generally wouldn’t?
  • What perspectives and attitudes bother me the most?

NEXT, EXPLORE WHAT OTHER OPINIONS BOTHER YOU ON THE MATTER. Read what others write and listen to what others say who takes a different point of view. The idea here is to familiarize yourself with how you’re likely to think and feel when someone says something to you in person that you find unsettling – or “pushes your buttons.”

Gain a deeper understanding of the other person and their beliefs

Instead of diving into the argument, ask them a few questions that reflect your desire to learn more about them and their perspective. Some examples:

  • If there were one thing everyone could understand about this issues, what would it be?
  • What kinds of things do you think we should be doing to address this issue?
  • How do you think I can build a better understanding of your perspective?
  • What factors have been most influential in shaping your view of this issue?

LISTEN CLOSELY to what they say before speaking. Stay engaged with good eye contact and validate by acknowledging what you heard. This will make the other person feel heard and prevents the situation of just talking pasts one another.

RESPOND THOUGHTFULLY AND TACTFULLY. Be thoughtful in how you frame your points, considering what the other person has said. You can disagree without disparaging comments to the other person. Don’t attack their values and beliefs. Instead, say something like, “I think I understand where you are coming from. I see things differently…” or “Another perspective is…”

THANK THEM AND ASK FOR A RECOMMENDATION. Show that you appreciate them engaging in the discussion and talk about next steps. You want to keep the door open to continue the dialogue.

Learn from the conversation

Think about what went well, or not so well. What escalated emotions? How did you handle that? What would you do differently next time? Consider how you showed up in this situation and identify ways in which you can be more effective in the future. TIME FOR MORE SELF-REFLECTION AND ASK:

  • Did this interaction challenge my observations/perspectives I had at the beginning of the conversation?
  • Did it bring to light any benefits or consequences of engaging with someone with whom I disagree?

“No one is right all the time.” Learning from one another is the best way to continuously learn, which fosters personal growth and prompts innovative thinking.  Check out this short video of Zachary Wood, who says it best!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft, or connect via email at