A recent TED talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, has given consideration to the key steps that make difficult conversations possible. These steps are summarised below. They are worthy of study to ensure that you are well placed to enter any conversation:
1. Don’t assume bad intent – assuming good or neutral intent provides a good starting point for the conversation. Any bad intent will reveal itself during the conversation. As an example, Jesus conducts the conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, (John 3) in a manner where Nicodemus is treated with neutral intent. Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels is less forbearing of his treatment of the Pharisees.
2. Ask questions – without genuinely understanding where the other party is coming from you are unable to frame your arguments. As an example, Jesus asks questions of the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4. It is the women who responds to one of Christ’s questions so that we may understand the cultural setting of Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9)
3. Stay calm – patience requires practice. If you dial up the volume and the snarky responses then all you are likely to do is bring the conversation to an unsatisfactory end. As an example, Paul exhibits great calm before Festus and Agrippa (Acts 25 and 26)
4. Make the argument – we cannot expect another person to change their mind without reason. Make the argument soundly and with good indication that you have listened to the other person. As an example, Jesus powerfully makes the argument of what will be revealed in his kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).