5 Ways To Debate With An Open Mind

The next time you’re tempted to respond to a controversial Facebook status, give pause and then attempt to open your opponent’s mind through a discussion. Chances are, you may even open your own mind further.

5 Ways To Debate With An Open Mind
[Image: Flickr user Direitos Urbanos]

If everyone had the same opinion, then the world would be very boring.


Instead of viewing people with different views as obstinate, Jim Stone, Ph.D., a Washington-based productivity expert, asks: What if you tried to engage them in conversation to find out what’s behind their thinking?

Stone recently examined this issue for Psychology Today, and advocates the following five-step approach:

1. Establish your common humanity

“By default, we tend to see a person who has different views as an opponent. And we fall into a debate frame with them,” Stone says. Instead, try to focus on what you have in common. As children, we’re blank slates, and we absorb some beliefs from those who raised us, while rejecting others as we age, he notes. By focusing on what you have in common, you’re getting the conversation started in a non-confrontational way.

2. Share stories, not statistics

To understand someone’s perspective on a topic, it’s helpful to know their story behind it, Stone says. As you listen, try to put yourself in their shoes to help understand why they’ve arrived at that conclusion, he says. Next, tell your story, sticking to the facts as much as possible. As you tell your story, be open to the possibility that your views may not be as well-reasoned as you initially thought.

3. Let the other person feel comfortable enough to change their position

If your goal is to have the other person change their mind, you then need to give them–and yourself–permission to retract earlier statements. Stone suggests framing the conversation by asking: “I want to feel free to take things back if they don’t hold up. And, of course, I’ll give you permission to do that, too. Does that sound good?” You’re asking for permission for yourself first, rather than confronting the other person, Stone says.


4. Honor their experience, but question their conclusion

After your conversation partner shares their experience or view, you can gently challenge them about their interpretation of it, and offer alternative viewpoints. According to Stone, the conversation may go this way: “One possibility is X [their interpretation], another is Y [your interpretation]. How could we tell which one, if either, is true?”

Instead of denying that person’s experience and putting them on guard, you’re engaging them in a thoughtful dialogue where you’re trying to solve a problem together, Stone says.

5. Keep your end goal in mind

When it comes to long-held beliefs, not everything is going to be resolved in one conversation, Stone says. Your initial discussion should lay the groundwork for future conversations. He suggests asking yourself, “What do I want from the conversation? Is it to be understood? Change the other’s person perspective, if only slightly?”

“When opponents understand each other, they can work together,” says Stone. “They can find win-win deals where both sides get most of what they want instead of one side getting everything.”

Hat tip: Psychology Today

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.