Challenging Conversations

June 15, 2020

Louis Tay

This is a time when many of us have challenging conversations.

Many of the conversations I have had involve:

  • How quickly do we re-open amid the threat of COVID? How do we go about re-opening? Should we even re-open?
  • How do we address racism? To what extent does the police as an institution require reform?
  • How do we negotiate life with an increased sense of uncertainty?

Many of us have strong opinions on these issues – and often not on the same side.

Disagreeing is difficult and unpleasant. Many of us naturally have the mindset that such discussions are unproductive.

However, as someone who researches character, I believe that these challenging discussions are opportunities for practicing personal character strengths and virtues. Life presents us challenges, and it is in working through these challenges that we grow significantly.

As we converse, let us practice the following:

  • Practice kindness through listening. Take time to repeat in your own words what the other person is saying. Ask for clarification. Recognize that disagreements come because of opinions that are shaped by values, experiences, and personal history. Even if you disagree with their opinion, you can seek to listen in for their values and experiences underlying their opinions.

“I would love to learn more about how you have come to this position. Would you be willing to share more?”

  • Practice humility through openness. Instead of seeking only to voice your opinion, look for ways you can affirm specific aspects of an opposing view. Be willing to learn new information. Hold your strong opinions loosely.

“I have strong opinions on this issue. But – I recognize I can be wrong and need to learn more. I would love to have your thoughts on this.”

  • Practice love by not disparaging the other. Recognize that strong disagreements can happen even in the most loving of relationships. Among couples, tensions can arise over the smallest of issues (e.g., whether a toilet seat is kept up or down). The wonderful thing is that you can still appreciate the other person and have a positive relationship with her/him. Remember that people are more than their opinions on a single issue.

“I appreciate the discussion we had. I value your friendship and hope we can continue dialoguing on this -- and other things in life.”

Leaving you with an inspiring quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” 

I hope you will disagree well with others, and that we can all grow through these conversations.


Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Check back each week for his wellness tip of the week!

Well-Being Resources:

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Virtual Student Life


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