It’s no secret that our country has become more and more divided over the last year. Americans are often found arguing about politics, religious views, or racial issues. It is not uncommon for me to hear people talk about how differing opinions on sensitive issues have created division amongst family members and friendships. People who used to be to be close despite having differing views are finding it more and more difficult to maintain relationships. Many have stopped communicating altogether. The problem is, without hearing differing viewpoints, we become more and more polarized and divided. So what can be done to salvage relationships and increase understanding? Here are some tips:

1) Seek to understand.

When you are communicating, try to keep from focusing on a response or argument to viewpoints. Instead, focus your attention on really hearing what their beliefs are and trying to understand them rather than change them.

2) Reflect what you are hearing.

Often times we can distort messages and hear something very different from what is actually being said. Reflection can be as simple as saying back what you hear the other person expressing. One of two things will happen: They will agree that you heard them correctly or they will disagree and have the opportunity to clarify what they meant. Both will end in them feeling more understood.

3) Be respectful.

When sharing your thoughts and feelings, don’t insult, blame or accuse. This shuts down communication which leads to bigger divides. Attacking each other will not only distract from the original issue, it will likely create new ones.

4) Set a time limit.

While these discussions are important to have, they can be tense and exhausting. Try setting a time limit. When the time is up, shift your focus to other topics.

5) Remember that you don’t have to agree.

On many issues the fact is we all have our own opinions and beliefs. Some of them will change over time but many of them will stay the same. Agree to disagree.

The most important thing to remember is that if we all avoid these discussions and only communicate with people who share the same beliefs as us, we become more divided and potentially lose important relationships and supports. Keep the conversation going!!

Stacie Davidson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Thriveworks Counseling and Coaching in Charlotte who specializes in treating children, adolescents, individuals and couples dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, communication issues and relationship problems.

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