Some of the most crucial conversations may occur between perfect strangers who meet online, at coffee shops, on playgrounds or at neighborhood meetings. These discussions often arise unexpectedly, in very casual ways.
The better prepared we are for these chance encounters, the more successful we will be in getting across our viewpoints. After all, people are more likely to listen to friendly and knowledgeable cultural ambassadors.
Successful dialogues require patience, a sympathetic heart and good communication skills. Competent cultural facilitators allow others to explain their beliefs and ideas. They ask thoughtful questions. They use civil voices to express outrage. They also practice self-control.
When we begin making nasty or offensive comments, however, we notify others that we aren't yet ready for primetime dialogues.
Below I've outlined a few techniques that allow us to effectively air differences and persuade our opponents.
• Choose our words carefully.
Language is a currency that can be used to build or to demolish relationships. Use words to lay a strong foundation. Talk in a way that promotes healing and honest conversations. Respect, understanding, common ground and empathy are words that help inquiring minds stay open. Destruction, divisiveness, evil and hate are words that separate us and lead listeners to pick sides. Communicate in a manner that leads to productive results.
• Explain what we stand for.
We can win more friends and arguments by explaining what we stand for, rather than by talking about the things we oppose. Examples: We should not say that we are against racism; instead, tell others that we seek a nation where all people can excel. Don't say we are against religious discrimination; instead, say we value freedom. Don't say we are against the use of such cultural names as African-American; instead, say we are for a cohesive nation where all communities feel they are Americans.
• Practice the art of inquiry.
Ask thoughtful questions calmly. If we are trying to win the argument, then we aren't really listening — are we? So put aside all thoughts of victory. When we truly listen to opposing views, we show that we care about the issues. When people know we care about them, they listen to us.
• Invest our time well.
Don't spend a lot of time trying to change people who haven't altered a major position or opinion in 20 years. Instead, identify open-minded folks who continuously look for challenges. To advance racial, cultural and religious dialogues, we need skilled facilitators who can push us to grow. Whenever possible, participate in conversations that encourage self-reflection.
• Walk our talk.
Identify our own issues and fix them. Next, share our spectacular strategies with others. Instead of voicing constant complaints about other people or groups, let us count all the ways we are making life better for them. People who continuously blame outsiders for problems within their cultural group lack the credibility needed to influence others.
• Focus on our group first.
Diversity movements get stuck because cultural communities frequently strive to fix other groups before focusing on their own weaknesses. Some black people think white Americans need to change. Some white Americans think Latinos should change. Christians ask Muslims to change and vice versa. Cultural leaders should focus on changing behaviors among their own group's members.
• Perform cultural audits.
Members of diverse societies must upgrade their skills sets. We need new maneuvers for our playbooks. Cultural audits enable us to determine when our actions are inconsistent with our words or intentions. Audits expose our hidden biases.