So how do we talk with our loved ones about important global issues without provoking them to feel defensive or want to cover their ears and run away? Here are 10 tips.
- Model your message. Truly, modeling the message we want to convey is one of the most powerful actions we can take. Countless people have told me I've inspired them to make changes in their lives and to be more mindful, just from seeing the choices that I make every day.
- Let go of the need to change them. We have no control over the choices others make or what they believe. We can educate, inspire, and support, but change will only come from them. Additionally, people can tell when we have an ulterior motive, so if they sense that our goal is to change them, they'll only become more attached to their perspective and find us less credible.
- Pick the appropriate time. When everyone is enjoying their meat-based dinners is not the time to start talking about the horrors of factory farming. When someone has the candy bar in her hand is not the time to talk about the connection between chocolate and child slavery. People need to be in a setting where they feel safe, and where they aren't distracted or predisposed to feel defensive or judged because of the situation.
- Keep it simple. A whole slew of statistics or example after example of cruelty do not make a convincing "argument." Stick with a core message (e.g., "I make this choice because...."), make sure whatever information you share is accurate, and perhaps tell one compelling story -- especially if it's of your own experience.
- Stay calm. Because we so deeply want our loved ones to share our views, it can be easy to become frustrated and exasperated. It's vital to stay calm and open to whatever is happening. Remember to model a message of love and compassion.
- Frame the conversation in the positive (when appropriate). Rather than focusing too much on all the horrors of the issue, emphasize the convenience, joy, money savings or whatever positive attributes are part of making the choices you're suggesting. Most people get disheartened and discouraged about the atrocities of the world, and it's important for people to be informed. But the focus should be on what they can do about it and how those actions can make their lives (as well as their world) better.
- Emphasize commonalities. Bring the issue down to its core values of compassion, care for youth, concern for injustice, etc., and help make connections about the commonalities you both share.
- Listen and empathize. Don't do all the talking or set the situation up as you trying to convince them of something. Have a conversation, and do more listening than you do speaking. You should be learning nearly as much from them as they are from you. Try to determine what their underlying needs, fears, and concerns are. And remember where you were before you made these changes in your own life. Show that you care and understand where they're coming from -- even if you don't agree with their views.
- Offer honest, accurate information, resources, and positive actions that fit within their current value system. When offering information, "less is more" should be the rule; but make sure that the information is accurate and honest. Tell the truth in what you're sharing. Avoid euphemisms. Also be sure to start from wherever they are and provide them with opportunities to take small steps that aren't too far outside their current comfort zone. Once they've been successful, they're more likely to want to venture further.
- Offer help. If your loved ones express interest in finding out more or giving something a try, offer them plenty of support. Give them relevant resources (that won't overwhelm them); cook them a meal (or teach them to cook one) with the ingredients in question; go with them to a talk about the topic; point them to places they can purchase the product(s) you've talked about. Be a mentor and sounding board.
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