Halt Opinionated Conversations

by Gloriana Hunter

If you've ever had difficulties supporting someone with strong beliefs that don’t match yours, you're in good company. The good news? You can create a new discussion that will keep your boundaries intact without driving a wedge into your relationship. Discover 4 Peer Hacks to create a new conversation with a recovery focus.

  • Number of words: 615
  • Time to read: about 3.6 minutes
  • Value: Priceless

When I was a kid, my polite parents told me to never discuss religion, politics, or engage any other opinion where people could disagree. It ruined the relationship, they said. As I got older, I saw what they meant. A conversation that confronted my beliefs (or the other person’s) drove an often-permanent wedge into what was once a good friendship. Most times, I try to keep my opinions to myself, but sometimes they overflow my throat and blurt out my lips. I sure wish I could stop that…but that’s another story.

Friendship aside, what if it is someone we serve? What if their opinions and beliefs confront ours in a way that is uncomfortable for us? What if every time we meet with them they Never. Stop. Talking. About. It?

It helps to understand a little bit about how strong opinions affect others (and us). Researchers have shown that when a person’s ingrained beliefs are confronted (even with solid and irrefutable facts), their mind and body respond as if they are being physically attacked. Since we don’t hit the people we serve, confronting their beliefs is probably not a good tactic either. But neither is just sitting there listening to them assault us with their words.

We can change the conversation in 4 Peer Hacks:

Hack 1 – Remember your purpose. We have one overarching purpose in peer and family support. To walk with someone as they explore their own individual path to recovery. SAMHSA defines recovery as "a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential". Holding onto strong beliefs that differ from ours has nothing to do with their health and wellness. In fact, it is a healthy part of living a self-directed life. Full potential is reached by people with a wide variety of belief systems. We are not here to convince people of anything. Ever. At all. Not even recovery (yeah…I went there).

Hack 2 – Change the question. If you ask about why they believe like they do, you’re bound to hear more of what you don’t want. Sure, asking why is an open-ended question, but it does not bring the same results as a well-designed how or what question. Consider this: Why do you believe in blah blah blah?  Or How do your spiritual beliefs help you make good decisions for your recovery? Or What does your relationship with friends and family look like when you include your political opinions?

Hack 3 – Broaden the category. Instead of naming the specific belief, put it into a general category that everyone can accept. When you say the specific belief, you run the risk of the person hearing a challenge in your voice or seeing it in your body language, even when you try to hide it. A generally acceptable category smooths out the judgment and is less threatening to both of you. For example, strong beliefs about race and racism can be categorized into a general bucket of "beliefs about people" (How does your beliefs about people help you build resilience to the everyday pressures you face?) 

Hack 4 – Be consistent and persistent: If the person tries to bring the offending opinion back into the conversation, repeat Hacks 1-3. Yes, it’s a lather, rinse, repeat thing. But it will work wonders to keep a recovery focus into the encounter. After a while, the person will adapt to the support you are giving them. It may not be right away, but eventually, they will accept the non-threatening pattern of conversation and participate in ways that can move them forward in their journey. And that is why we do what we do.

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