Most of us can agree that the past few years have brought into focus just how difficult it can be to disagree with each other while maintaining a civil conversation. More often than not, we find ourselves in heated arguments disguised as discussions, which leave everyone further entrenched in their belief systems as a result. Hard conversations are often doomed from the beginning because participants don’t know how to enter them without being immediately defensive or aggressive. In Beyond Contempt: How Liberals Can Communicate Across the Great Divide, Erica Etelson introduces and explains techniques of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC) to help navigate conversations in a way that fosters understanding. In the following paragraphs, Etelson describes how to use a positioning statement to open up a conversation where each party knows where the other one stands.
Excerpt from the Book
“Once you have some understanding of another person’s point of view, you can voice your opinion in the form of a non-defensive position statement. As with PNDC questions, PNDC statements are not designed to convince but, rather, to share your personal experience or perspective and to identify any contradictions in the other person’s position.
A PNDC position statement is not incontrovertible truth, not dogma, not a sermon, not a guilt trip, and, above all, not a platform from which to show off your supposed superiority. It can be very passionate so long as what you’re passionate about is your position, not the wrongfulness of the other person’s position. You can be angry provided that you’re not using your anger as a weapon to punish or convince. You can’t make someone change their mind; the harder you try, the more resistant they’ll become. All you can do is invite the other person to consider what you’re saying. An effective position statement can serve three functions:
- show the other person that you understand (though not necessarily agree with) their position;
- share your story and the basis for your beliefs; and
- hold the other person accountable for the ways in which their attitude or behavior has harmed you or others.”
If you are navigating through holding hard conversations with people whose value systems may not resemble your own, this book is a wealth of information. Not only will you learn important tools of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication for speaking to others, you might also find some ways to use the techniques for listening to others as well. Learn more about this powerful communication tool by ordering Beyond Contempt today.
About the Author
Erica Etelson is a writer, community activist, and certified Powerful Non-Defensive Communication facilitator. A former human rights attorney, she has advocated in support of welfare recipients, prisoners, indigenous peoples, immigrants, and environmental activists. She has also organized for clean, community-owned energy as part of a just transition to a local, low-carbon economy. Following the 2016 election, Etelson became active in the resistance movement and in left-right dialogue initiatives. Her articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Progressive Populist, Truthout and Alternet. She lives with her husband and son in Berkeley, California.