Engaging Disagreement Agreeably

Discussions with people who disagree with our Christian convictions can be very frustrating because, quite often, people just simply don’t want to be persuaded. They have all kinds of reasons they don’t want to change their minds, but often people are simply obstinate and don’t want to admit they’re wrong. (Gee, I’ve been there—a lot.)

In the June issue of Christianity Today, a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School, Dan Kahan, offers a few pointers on how to have more productive conversations about differing views. They’re entirely consistent with the tactics Greg teaches, especially the heart of the Columbo tactic: Find out what the other person believes, and try to understand their view and why they believe it. People are often much more open to hearing what we have to say if they feel we’ve shown interest in what they believe and care in understanding them accurately.

Here are Kahan’s tips:

  1. “Make it your goal to understand the person, not to change their mind.”

    Essentially, this is Greg’s “stone in their shoe” tactic. Don’t make it the goal of every conversation to persuade someone. Make it your goal to give them something to think about, and talk more later.
     

  2. “Take genuine interest in why someone believes what they believe.”

    This is one of the Columbo questions. Take genuine interest in the person, too. Ask lots of questions, not only about their beliefs, but about them. People are much more open if you think you’re genuinely interested in them and not just making your point.
     

  3. “Try starting off the conversation by sharing what you think is the strongest evidence for the view you disagree with.”

    This shows that you’ve taken care to understand and consider other ideas and indicates that you’re not closed-minded, as some caricature Christians.
     

  4. “Convey that you are open to having your mind changed.”

    Even if you may not be open to having your mind changed, convey that you understand views different form your own and you’ve given them thought. I think being open-minded doesn't only mean you could change your mind, but that you’re open to thinking about differing ideas.
     

If people feel you’ve carefully considered their beliefs and been fair with them, they’re more likely to listen and consider what you believe. This is, of course, true for any topic, but especially true and important when we’re trying to commend the truth of Christianity.

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Melinda Penner

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