We’ve all dealt with people who have a different perspective on how the world works than we do. Perhaps they are from another culture or ethnicity than our own, resulting in their own unique experiences, viewpoints, and assumptions. Having a different perspective does not mean we are unable to enjoy spending time together or even learning from one another. But what do we do when our core values or beliefs conflict? Here are 7 steps to navigating a discussion with someone who has a differing point of view.
The first and most important thing you should do before engaging a student in a conversation where there is likely to be a differing perspective is to PRAY. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to say (John 14:26). We need to have the same approach and understanding as Paul when he said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (I Corinthians 2:4-5) Bathe the conversation in prayer, and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and speak through you and speak to them.
When students express their views, LISTEN. This seems so simple, but in practice, most people can grow in this area. To ensure you are truly listening, don’t interrupt or think about what you are going to say next while they are still talking. Be sure you are listening for the complete message, being attentive to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and show genuine interest. Avoid non-verbal cues of disagreement or rebuttal statements and wait for the student to pause before asking clarifying questions. You can summarize what they have said (what I am hearing is….) in order to ensure you understand. Realize that you come to this discussion with your own underlying assumptions and you may be incorrect in some of them. Don’t think you understand without clarifying.
3. Ask How They Formed Their Conclusions
Politely and respectfully ASK what information they used to form their conclusions (e.g. research, teachers / professors, parents, traditions, peers, personal experience, etc.). “How did you come to believe / think that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” Do not be judgmental. Rather, be curious. “I’m just curious…..” When we desire to learn how they came to their perspectives, we show respectful humility.
4. Thank Them
Next, THANK them in some way for sharing their opinions (e.g. “Thank you for sharing that with me! You seem to have a very strong opinion about….” Or “I know other people who have that opinion as well.”) Do NOT tell them, “you are wrong,” or “I disagree.” That is only going to antagonize them and cause their defense mechanism walls to go up. They need to know that you love them and accept them the way they are with their current belief system. They need to know that your friendship is not contingent on them living or believing like you do.
5. Pause to Reflect
Pause to REFLECT on what the student has shared. Ask the Holy Spirit if this is the time and place to take this discussion further. Sometimes the thing people need most is a listening ear, and the listening ear is what opens them up to seeking further into what you believe later. It is not your responsibility to change anyone.
6. If Appropriate, Continue the Dialogue
If it seems appropriate, CONTINUE the dialogue. You can ask them if they would characterize themselves as a seeker of truth and ask them what they think is required to arrive at the truth. Is it better to go along with the crowd or to gather data for themselves from ALL of the points of view and examine it honestly and objectively with no presuppositions to form their own conclusions based on the facts?
Ask them if they would agree that there is always more than one side to a story/theory and before they can choose one, logic demands that they know why they believe what they believe instead of believing what others may believe. For example, if they attend a university, one of the basic tenants of a university is academic freedom. That freedom should lead them to research and explore diverse opinions, options and theories with the goal of arriving at a correct conclusion. The whole purpose of research papers, labs and experiments is to find and test theories for truth. Are they willing to follow and live by the truth wherever it may lead them?
7. Ask if They are Open to Hearing your Thoughts
Finally, ask if they are OPEN. Are they willing to hear your thoughts (your side of the story) on the subject and what you have based your conclusions on? If you have a good, solid relationship with the student, and if the Holy Spirit leads you, politely point out or lovingly warn them about the dangers or weaknesses you see with their conclusion(s). You want to get them thinking and allow the Holy Spirit to work. You do not want them to feel like you are attacking them, but respectfully questioning their viewpoint can be the loving thing to do.
Overall, the best approach to discussing differing points of view with an international student needs to be from the basis of love. We must understand their point of view before suggesting a different point of view. If the student is not a believer, we cannot expect Christ-like behavior. Realize that, as with all people, the way they act flows out of what they believe, so the best place to start is the root of the belief.
People have differing points of view on all kinds of issues, from the best flavor of ice cream to how they see God. When recognizing an inconsistency in their perspective, take a moment to determine whether this issue is worthy of digging into on a deeper level. Are we willing to learn from different perspectives than our own, especially where there’s no conflict with Biblical truth? Ultimately, the goal is not to be right, but to be a representation of Christ to our international friends! He is able to lead them to truth.