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.