“Tell Me Your Story”

Tell-StoryI had dinner this week with a colleague who described a diversity training conference she attended recently. Mimi regaled me with a few stories of the hokey and somewhat invasive group activities which she was subjected to. The rhetorical, preaching-to-the-choir discussion did little to advance participants’ thinking about diversity; it just made them feel REALLY uncomfortable.

But, then Mimi shared an exercise they went through that contained a five-carat gem of wisdom.

When someone voices an opinion that is counter to yours – even if you find that position offensive and indefensible – ask that person to tell you his or her story. “Tell me what’s happened in your life that’s made you reach that conclusion.”

Ask with genuine curiosity. Seek the personal story behind the belief. Understand and respect the person, if not the opinion. Identify any common ground you share.

Gosh, can it be that easy? I always tense up when I run up against opposing viewpoints (particularly political stances). Then I do a good job of avoiding the opinionated elephant in the room and scramble to find something we can both agree upon. (Am I a people-pleaser or what?) And then I make a mental note to avoid this topic/person in the future.

So, I love this “Tell me your story” approach. I’ll let you know when I have the chance to use it.

How do you handle conflicting viewpoints?


  • Sharon Says:
    5-25-2010 18:08:20

    No help here because I respond in much the same way you do. I will look for opportunities to learn more from people with different views, though probably not in the area of politics because so much of that has to do with gut reaction and emotion.

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