Communicating when passions run high

How well do you go communicating when you feel strongly about at issue?

Often I’m engaged as an independent facilitator to run community forums. Many people who attend these forums feel very passionate about the topic under discussion. They attend because they need to air their passions and also because they want others to know what they know. In sharing their knowledge and concerns they hope that others will join them in their advocacy for the topic. Is this so?

The answer is that it’s much more complicated than simply presenting information to persuade others. One issue is that many people will not be interested enough to listen for more than a few moments. This is because most of us lead busy lives and if we want information we need it to be presented in a simple way so we can take in the main message and then decide if we want to learn more. Those who care deeply about a topic want to convey more details, however this has the potential to drive a more casually interested person away. One thing that can help to get them interested so they will listen for longer is to begin the conversation with where they’re at. What’s important to them? What do they really value? Sometimes this is called starting with the other person’s ‘map’ of reality rather than trying to push your own. How does this help? Firstly, it shows that you care enough to find out about their world. Secondly if you really do listen and ask some follow up questions to clarify what you’ve heard you increase the likelihood that they will return the favour and listen to you. A future post will talk about how you can keep a conversation going when the two maps clash.

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Maryanne Martin