How do we communicate with people who we disagree with? 

Tim Muehlhoff shares helpful advice from his book I Beg to Differ. Learn the art of navigating difficult conversations with people who don’t share the same beliefs.

We often want to want to launch into our conversations with disagreements, but Tim says we need to start with our agreements. 

“My students have to read the Quran and they are blown away when the first assignment is, ‘Now after you’ve read it, I want you to show 10 areas that the Quran agrees with the Bible.’ 

Many of his students were in disbelief that the Quran actually agrees with the Bible. He shares a few examples found in both texts:

“Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Muslims believe that Jesus was a wise teacher. They believe in prayer and fasting.”

We might disagree with their view of fasting, but it’s not wise to automatically interject a disagreement into the conversation. Instead, Tim says that we need to build a positive communication climate.

Tim discusses helpful ways to build a positive communication climate with others.

“We’re building a positive communication climate as I’m listening to you, I’m finding out background information and surprisingly, I’m working to find areas of agreement with the gay community, with feminists, with people who see the world differently than I do.”

A positive communication climate starts with finding areas of agreement.

“Start with agreement and move towards disagreement as all of communication theory.”

We need to listen to what people believe to gain better understanding of their beliefs. It doesn’t stop there! Tim suggests we need to keep the conversation going and ask important questions.

“I’m on an airplane flying and I’m sitting next to a gentleman who is obviously a PhD student, I lean over I said, ‘Hey, are you finishing your degree?’  He said, ‘Yeah, I’m at Brigham Young, I’m a Mormon and I’m finishing my degree in philosophy.’

He started asking the gentleman questions to peel back layers of agreement.

“I said to him, ‘I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know much about Mormonism and I’m curious what does a Mormon believe?’ That’s question number one. ‘What do you believe?’ Question number two. ‘What’s your background? Where you’re born into a Mormon family?…’

As a result of asking these questions, he was able to find many points of agreement.

“We both believe in God, we both believe Jesus is special, we both believe in divine, inspired literature.”

Although we might not fully agree with the other person, we can learn to disagree in a respectful way.

“Why not save those disagreements for later, so that the conversation has a way of picking up momentum.”

Highlight: Building a positive communication climate

How to respectfully disagree