In a post-Christian context, one of the challenges when connecting with people is discerning where to start. In our efforts to relate, serve, and ultimately build trust, sometimes we inadvertently do more damage than good. It can happen in subtle ways through words and actions that are intended to build bridges but, instead, create deep divides that are challenging to navigate.
Have you said something that was received with a surprised look, hurt, or even anger? I know I have. Fortunately, when this happens I have people around me that make me aware and those on the receiving end have been kind enough to forgive. There are times, though, when things are said that are offensive and insensitive that can lead to rifts in relationship if not quickly addressed. That’s what I would like to address here.
How to build relationships with people who have a different view than you
Listen – Listen to understand so that you learn where a person is coming from. This is easier said than done. Before you form a judgment – stop, remain curious and ask questions. When you feel the urge to share your own thought or relatable story, decide instead to listen and understand.
Empathize – If there is one thing that followers of Jesus need to lead the way in, it is the art of empathy. With the ability to put yourself in another person’s position, you can earn the right to ask questions. The only way to do this is by getting into the muck and mire of people’s lives. Watch Brene Brown on Empathy.
Nurture Trust – This is vital. Until you have implemented the first two, listening and empathizing, you will find it challenging to build trust. Nurturing trust is not a one-time event, but a repeatable process that needs to be reinforced.
In fact, the divisive nature in society has inspired some young leaders to create a toolkit focused on helping people create respectful conversations on various topics that are delicate in our society (politics, climate, gender, sexuality, etc.) and introduce tools that will allow people of various viewpoints to have healthy dialogue.
What to do when you have something to say
Contextualize your message. Paul was astute at relating to people from different worldviews than his own. Think of what he encountered throughout his ministry: navigating cross-cultural barriers, paradigms that were contrary to his, and an array of theological assumptions. A favorite example is when he encountered the “unknown God” (1) in Acts 17:22-23
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.
Reflect on these questions to assess how you can adapt your approach
- What values do I need to hold true to?
- What issues are non-negotiables for me? Really?
- What issues am I willing to let go?
- What am I unwilling to risk in this conversation?
- How can I create a win-win for this conversation?
- What should I look for to determine if people are uncomfortable?
- What will I do when I encounter a sensitive topic?
- What possible subjects will this person find potentially offensive?
- How can I share what I need to share in a way that it can be heard?
- Who else could I include?
1 The Unknown God or Agnostos Theos (Ancient Greek: Ἄγνωστος Θεός) is a theory by Eduard Norden first published in 1913 that proposes, based on the Christian Apostle Paul ‘s Areopagus speech in Acts 17 :23, that in addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called “Agnostos Theos”; that is: “Unknown God”, which Norden called “Un-Greek”.