Learn how to prevent fighting with a five-step communication method

Why do I need a five-step communication method?

It’s not much of a challenge to give a successful speech with someone who already is on your side. However, when your audience disagrees with you, sharing your ideas effectively becomes a real test of your communication skills. It’s even tougher when your topic is emotionally-charged, like politics or personal relationships. Yet, this is the challenge we can face when we want to create social and political change, in our little world or in the big world. In general, topics of conversation can become polarized and extreme for many people. So, how can we be more productive in getting our own message across? Maybe you’ll have a conversation one-on-one or with a large group. No matter if you are presenting a speech or joining in a discussion, use this five-step communication method with people who disagree with us.

Get your message across as well as possible

Dr. Karin Tamerius, a former psychiatrist, has developed a five-step conversation method. She is the founder and director of Smart Politics, a nonprofit organization that teaches progressive thinkers how to communicate more effectively with conservative thinkers. Her method can be used in one-on-one social situations, like with relatives sitting around a table. But, I see how this method can also be applied in speech presentations.

Do you dare present an opposing view on taboo topics like politics, religion or sex?

When you know that your audience may disagree with you at first, avoid starting with a verbal attack or confrontation. That could set off their fight-or-flight response. You’ll destroy any chances of listening and finding some common ground to agree over. First, we need to help prepare people to hear, absorb and adapt to new information. Dr. Tamerius explains that we need to make people feel safe first:

People cannot communicate effectively about politics when they feel threatened. Direct attacks – whether in the form of logical argument, evidence, or name-calling – trigger the sympathetic nervous system, limiting our capacity for reason, empathy, and self-reflection.

And, if you want your audience to stay calm and rational, you too need to remain calm. Whatever their reaction, don’t let yourself be triggered and lose your cool.

Dr. Tamerius’ five-step communication method

This is the powerful five-step communication method from Dr. Tamerius for a one-on-one discussion:

  1. Ask open-ended, genuinely curious, nonjudgmental questions.
  2. Listen to what people you disagree with say, and deepen your understanding with follow-up inquiries.
  3. Reflect back their perspective by summarizing their answers and noting underlying emotions.
  4. Agree before disagreeing by naming ways in which you agree with their point of view.
  5. Share your perspective by telling a story about a personal experience.

Practicing conversations on difficult topics

The New York Times published online a free interactive chat program to test and help you practice discussing difficult topics. Called the Angry Uncle Bot, it demonstrates this five-step communication method. So, Test yourself and then see how you can apply this method when you give a speech. The same ideas apply: first think about your audience’s perspectives and avoid attacking them. Present nonjudgmental questions for them to consider. Show you understand why they think and feel the way they do. After your audience feels safe and is ready to hear new perspectives, share personal experiences with your audience. Remember, be sure to show respect in order to get respect for your perspective.

Changing people’s minds on important and emotionally-charged topics is never easy. It takes skill, patience and tolerance. Your audience or your conversation partner may at first disagree with you vehemently. But, you’ll get nowhere if you don’t dare talk with them. Use this method, so you can talk with them.

Assistance in preparing your speech using the five-step communication method

The trainers at Speaking Arts International specialize in preparing speeches for small or large groups. So, let us help you with planning and preparing your next speech. For instance, your presentation may be prepared or improvised, like during a panel discussion. We can help. We will upgrade your presentation techniques, in English or in Dutch, with or without slide projections. Contact us for a free consultation today.