13 Steps for Having a Good Dialogue With Someone

td_3_figures_250  1) Listen to understand rather than listening to speak
2) Ask good open-ended questions (avoid leading questions that make the person feel they are only “allowed” to answer in a certain way)
3) Ask with genuine interest.
4) If it’s a topic you don’t know anything about, state that up front. “I have never met a Mennonite before, so I’m really curious.” (HAHA! I just use it as an example since it’s the one I get most frequently)
5) If you do know something about the topic, don’t overinduldge about what you already know or argue with the person who represents the particular people group that you are asking about (assuming you are not part of the group yourself). The point of the dialogue is to learn from others, not to be a know-it-all-show-off.
6) Pay attention to the other person’s body language to gauge if any question is making them feel uneasy. If so, don’t assume, but rather ask. “I sense that this may be a difficult conversation for you. Would you like to change the topic?” Sometimes you may feel the other person’s awkwardness but to them sharing might actually be rather therapeutic. So ask first. Don’t press them if they answer part way, but don’t want to give any more details than what is already shared.
7) Monitor your own body language – what we say without ever opening our mouths is what typically speaks the loudest.
8) Try not to give into stereotypes. Each person is different.
9) If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, tell them you don’t understand. Don’t nod and pretend like you do. When they say, “you know what I mean?” You can respond, “Sorry, I’m not really sure what you are getting at, but I’d really like to know. I’m trying hard to understand. Could you try explaining it a different way?”
10) Seek to dialogue rather than to DEBATE. Dialogue is an exchange of ideas, debate generally is trying to prove that your view is correct, right, or superior over the other person’s. Sometimes in life and in theology there is actually no ONE correct answer – try as we might to make it so.
11) Avoid proof-texting at all costs. Don’t needlessly bring in a random Scripture verse that shows the person as being in error or sin. If you truly believe the other person is in the wrong, you will win that person over by your love and encouragement, not by ripping them to shreds.
12) Intentionally seek to have your ideas stretched. It is easy for us to stick with what we know, but good theologians read books from a variety of sources. As an academician, I read ultra-conservative and super-liberal books both and I challenge myself daily to be able to articulate the view that I don’t espouse in the most convincing way. Learning where other people stand and what they think helps makes you just a much more rounded person.           13) Unless otherwise explicitly mentioned, always assume confidentiality.  Don’t get into the trap of sharing personal information in the guise of “prayer requests.”  If unsure, ask the other person for permission.

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I know that I need to work on all of these areas myself, but I put this out here as an encouragement to you. I think if we all strove for peace and building one another up, less violence and less conflicts would erupt.

3 thoughts on “13 Steps for Having a Good Dialogue With Someone

  1. Lots of great suggestions here. I think I understand what you are trying to accomplish.

    Is it possible that all the best conversational techniques won’t help us make progress in understanding? Is it always best that our objective should be to learn from others? Body language and conversational tone online can be important indicators of how to proceed, of course. If a strereotyped shoe fits should we wear it? If what a person says doesn’t make reasonable theological or ethical sense is there a good way to say so? Is debate always wrong? Yes, sometimes there is not one answer to an issue, but are there not other times that true and false beliefs and statements are worthy of debate? True, love and encouragement to reconsider one’s errors is biblical (I’m sure you agree, so I won’t proof text that one 8>)). Oops, I think you used stereotyping of theologies when you said “ultra-conservative and super-liberal.” Labels can be useful because all nouns are just that, labels, and they can be very helpful, even though stereotypes.

    All that reading and thinking in order to understand what you intended to say, and though I don’t know for sure how close I am and hope I wasn’t just trying to show how much I know about what you said (I say tongue in cheek), buuuutt….. and my apologies for shifting the focus a bit off topic….. how does one make progress in a discussion of what a biblical perspective on human sexuality looks like when those you are trying to discuss the case with deny that Jesus and the apostles thought homosexuality was unacceptable (hence denying history) and not only assert that they themselves are following the leading of the Holy Spirit but that you are just trying to win the argument? Sometimes the best ideas, many of which you have offered, for how to engage an issue, just get used to reject reasonable arguments for what scripture says and then go on to deny that there are sometimes unquestionable historical fact(s) versus mere personal preference(s).

    We live in a strange conversational time, but perhaps it has always been this strange. What do you think?

    • Hi RW, thank you for your thoughts!

      I definitely agree with you that there is a time and place to agree and disagree in love. I am also not negating the fact that there is a need to occasionally draw back an erring brother or sister. What I am attempting to do with this article is simply to give ideas for how not to “bite and devour” one another (Galatians 5:15) but instead to build one another up in love. Although there are so many points of theological disagreement, I have learned how to love and accept even my friends who it is impossible to see eye-to-eye with. That’s why I’m advocating come to the discussion with an open-mind, not with the intention of merely having to be right, and you might be surprised that your own thoughts and opinions on a given topic will eventually change over time. Hope that helps!

      • yup, I think I get it–all of us need to be open to not just being “right” about our views and that agree that they may change over time. There is a place for advocating a peaceable pacificity and avoidance of “biting and devouring” as well. Still, it is not always just a matter of one’s “opinions” changing over time, is it? There are sometimes matters to which one has devoted considerable “open-minded” investigation of the data of scripture and history (and guidance of the Spirit) and one can only reasonably conclude that one really isn’t merely obsessed with being right or having a mere opinion on the matter, but about which there IS actual historical, factual clarity, and about which it is purely unreasonable to dispute the matter unless one is committed to all things being merely matters of opinion. This is the case regarding the apostolic New Testament perspective on same gender sexual relations, but whole swaths of the Mennonite confab just don’t accept it. This is not actually lovingly disagreeing, but a burying one’s spiritual head in the sands of contemporary culture and refusing to look at the evidence. I would love nothing more than having peace about the divergences of opinion on these matters, but in this case one can’t simply agree to disagree in true LOVE. There is eternal truth that won’t simply change over time–contrary to the relativist and subjectivist proclivities of our contemporary culture. Thanks for your response and allowing my pushback. All the best to all in Christ.

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