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Navigating Polarizing Conversations

As human beings, we all hold various intersecting identities including race, class, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, ability, age, religion, etc., having challenging conversations about and across differences is a key skill for just about any relationship. It also serves as the basis for engaging in meaningful advocacy helping you find further purpose and meaning amidst the chaos around us.  

Polarizing conversations, particularly in the context of divisive societal issues, current events and politics, can have a significant impact on mental health. These conversations often lead to heightened emotional stress, anxiety, and even depression for individuals who engage in them. The intense and often hostile exchanges on opposing viewpoints can create a sense of isolation, as people may fear expressing their true beliefs or values to avoid conflict. This can lead to feelings of alienation, frustration, and hopelessness, further straining mental well-being. It is crucial for individuals to engage in open, respectful, and empathetic dialogue, and also to take breaks from such conversations when necessary to safeguard their mental health and overall emotional equilibrium.

To cultivate this conflict resolution skill, follow these tips for talking about, and across, differences of opinion. 

1. Actively listen – It might seem straightforward, but there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Each of us has a unique story and different perspective on life. Active listening allows us to meet someone where they are and have a respectful conversation. 

Pro tip: Listen to others’ whole response BEFORE starting to think about what you are going to say next. This ensures your full attention is devoted to listening, rather than split between listening and thinking what your next point might be. 

2. Have humility – Often, we have to receive feedback and constructive criticism. Be open and humble that we are all growing and learning and be truly open to the feedback you receive. 

Pro tip: Getting feedback often makes us adopt a defensive stance. Try to avoid this by keeping an open mind and remind yourself that feedback is a way to improve ourselves in countless ways. Do your best to listen objectively in the moment, then process after the fact and best yet, respond to the person meaningfully. 

3. Build Bridges Not Walls – When we take things personally or shut down in conversations we create metaphorical walls. These walls often preclude our ability to create shared connections. Instead of building and reinforcing walls, consider flattening them into bridges. How can we find common ground and build meaningful relationships? What would it look like to center individual identities while accomplishing our objectives? 

4. Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable – While challenging at first, it gets easier with time. Lean into discomfort by remaining present when discussing a controversial topic. Allow others to finish their point before developing and sharing yours. Take it in fully and see how it integrates into your/your team’s viewpoint. Pauses are ok, they convey that you are listening and prevent you from ending up wishing you had put your foot in your mouth with a curt response.   

5. Explore Context – Taking the time to understand the context and background of those we interact with is essential. In doing so, you are provided a better idea as to where others’ perspectives are coming from and gauge if a conversation is appropriate, and how to navigate it. 

Every day we have conversations with family members and other people, with diverse perspectives, often different from our own. Use these tips to help now and in the future when a difficult conversation arises. 




*If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health, we can help. Contact us at Diversus Health to request an appointment with our mental health providers. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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