One question our dialogue facilitators often hear is whether it’s ever a good idea to present a more moderate or “tame” version of your views, in order to put others at ease if your opinions might be too jarring and turn them off the discussion.
It’s something that anyone who has friends or family with differing views has thought about. Is doing so compromising what you stand for? Is it avoiding a conflict that would be better dealt with directly?
Ultimately, the answer depends on what “more tame” means. If it means more accessible, then it’s absolutely okay—in fact, it could be the key to getting to a point where, even if you don’t agree with who you’re speaking with, you understand one another.
“We have to think about the way we speak to people, and whether what we’re saying is hearable to the other person,” says Greg Barker, our Manager of Facilitator Programs.
He says that in these conversations, it’s important to use language that’s accessible to others, as well as to not assume that the person you’re talking with is at the same point of the process as you are.
“If I’m presenting an idea or belief that I’ve done a ton of reading and work on, it’s probably unfair of me to expect that everyone else has also done the same amount of work, or has the same level of interest,” Greg told us.
Making your opinions more accessible might also mean not presenting your entire worldview at once, but instead laying it out one piece at a time. If the person you’re talking with can engage with that piece, then you can give another. If not, they’ll likely be overwhelmed if you try to give more.
Eliza O’Neil, our US/UK Programs Manager and a dialogue facilitator, told us, “When you care deeply about your relationships, it’s natural to want to make your beliefs more digestible for the people in your life. And if that means saying bit-by-bit, ‘this where I stand’ on one single issue and working from there, then that’s great.”
But if “more tame” means less honest, then it’s absolutely not a good idea. People deserve your honesty, and you deserve to get to be honest. Successful engagement hinges on us being honest and vulnerable with one another.
When it comes to not being true to your opinions for the sake of appeasing someone else, Greg doesn’t mince words. “One, I’m just not going to argue a viewpoint I don’t fully believe in very well. And two, why? Why do we do it in the first place? It’s a waste of time for both of us. And it’s not going to be convincing.”
Eliza agrees. “If when you say ‘more tame’ you mean, ‘I’m going to water down what I’m saying so it’s more palatable to people,’ that is not putting yourself in mind in the conversation. If it means that you’re not saying something that you can really stand behind, then it’s just not a good idea.”
In the end, the most important thing is to bring your full self to the conversation you’re having. That means standing in your truth and being honest and authentic, rather than worrying about whether what you’re saying is too jarring to the person you’re talking with.
“Remember: you are one half of the conversation,” Eliza says. “And being able to work towards at least being understood is just as important as trying to understand the other person.”
Being truthful is much better than pretending your way through a conversation for the sake of avoiding conflict. After all, if things get too heated, you can always just take a break, sit with your feelings, and both come back to it when you’re ready. If you value the relationship of the person you’re speaking with, honesty will always be the best policy.
Have a question for our facilitators? Send it to dialogueIRL@seedsofpeace.org.