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Finding Common Ground: How to Build Bridges with Those Who Disagree

People can have different opinions and sometimes the difference in views is so significant that it can lead to mutual incomprehension or even a big fight. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it is useful to be able to build a bridge between your opinion and that of someone else. Often it turns out that the difference of opinion is not that big and that you can both learn something from each other.

How do we form an opinion?

It seems obvious that we form an opinion based on the facts we receive or are given. We learn something about a subject and then we form an opinion about it. Yet it is more complicated.

Our opinion can be about a taste or something we do or don't enjoy, but it can also be about things that in principle have nothing to do with ourselves. You can therefore make a distinction between opinions that relate to personal preferences and opinions that relate to external factors.

Personal opinions are about:

  1. Sexual orientation

  2. Taste, smell, and sound

  3. Activities, hobbies, and sports

Opinions about external factors are about:

  1. Other people

  2. Circumstances and situations

  3. Politics and religion

  4. Economy, business, and entrepreneurship

The difference is that personal opinions are innate and physical. If you have never eaten spicy food, you may not like it. If you are calm and peaceful by nature, you may not like blasting rock music.

Opinions about external factors are different. They are much more about the experience we have with the subject and how much knowledge we have about it.

Personal opinions cannot be discussed. You can hardly ask why someone is gay or straight or why someone likes or dislikes sweets. Opinions relating to external factors can be discussed. These come from an entirely different system in your brain. Namely, your deeply held convictions.

(Un)conscious convictions drive opinions

We think we can form an opinion by learning about something. The more facts we learn, the more solid our opinion becomes. But appearances can be deceptive. We will look at that knowledge through the lenses of our (un)conscious convictions and reason from there.

These convictions cover larger areas than the subject itself. Trust in politicians or not makes a big difference when you form an opinion about a decision the government makes. If you are convinced that it is important to grow old healthily and to live long, you will look very differently at a polluted city and healthy food than if you do not believe in that.

To bridge a difference of opinion, you will therefore not only have to talk about the subject but also about the (un)conscious convictions of yourself and the other person. This is because a change of insight is rarely brought about by new facts about the subject. New insights based on the same facts usually occur through changing or adjusting convictions.

Building bridges between different convictions is the trick

So the art of bridging two opinions is to bridge each other's fundamental and most dominant convictions. This does not guarantee success, but it is the most effective way.

You can disagree on so many opinions about external factors. Any political choice, type of business, or any other of the above subjects can lead to evenings of discussion or even arguments.

But if you want to learn and the other person wants to learn from you, you should not want to win the discussion on the subject. You want to come to each other about your convictions. Then you will understand why the other person is so fierce about his opinion and the other person will understand why you stick to your point of view.

But if you manage to influence each other positively and without coercion about convictions, then you will usually find that you also find common ground when it comes to your opinions, and an argument is prevented or solved.

See what you can agree on together

During a heated discussion, we can easily get lost in the forest of sub-topics on which we disagree. The way to bridge the gap is then not only to look at the convictions from which the gap arose but also to look at what you do agree on.

This starts with listening carefully to the other person without pushing your own opinion through. The other person is not stupid. His or her opinion is based on something. Maybe not all the arguments and facts are correct in your eyes but listen.

When you have heard everything the other person has to say, ask to be heard yourself. Ask for patience to hear and really listen to your views and backgrounds. In this way, you create an opening to understand from which convictions the other person is thinking and speaking. You create a connection and only this connection makes someone willing to take a step toward your beliefs, convictions, and opinions. But of course, the same applies to you.

Do you always have to agree with each other?

If we all thought the same and everyone had the same opinion, there would be nothing left to learn. Of course, it is nice to have a pleasant evening without getting into a fiery discussion or even possible disagreement over a difference of opinion. But can't you just have a difference of opinion? If the other person can't deal with it, it says more about his or her stubbornness than about your point of view.

There are other ways to stay connected without giving in or going along with someone else's opinion. You can say you agree to disagree. You can also say that someone is right without really thinking so and thereby create a connection again.

The latter seems like lying, but it doesn't have to be true. If you cheat a little to keep the connection, you can always come back to your point of view. You don't always have to get right or win something right away. Sometimes it is useful to take the sting out of it first to create an opening for a later dialogue. Of course, it depends on how you prove someone's right. Saying that someone is completely right is different from saying that you understand their opinion and that there may be a grain of truth in it.

How do you deal with someone who you think is radical in his ideas?

Of course, there are people who have radical ideas. But remember that even something you consider radical can come from your own convictions. What is normal in Europe may be abnormal in the US, and what is normal in South America may be extremely offensive in China.

Unfortunately, we only know what we know and we do not know what we do not know. This means that we base our truth and values on what we do know and not on what we do not know.

Yet there are international cultural agreements on how we can behave and what we can and cannot do and think. The idea that a man can hit women is not accepted worldwide. Nazis and their ideas are not accepted. The idea that the color of your skin determines whether you are smart or stupid is not accepted.

But here too, it is true that you should not look at the subject, but at the conviction, and address it. By remaining curious about what conviction someone has and how that conviction came into being, you can still come closer to each other.

An opinion is not innate

Nobody is born with an opinion. You learn them through your experiences, education, and through the influence of your environment. Often you are completely unaware that all this has an influence on your opinions and convictions.

Especially when it comes to radical convictions and opinions, it is, therefore, wise to remain open in a dialogue about how those convictions have come about. You cannot convince a radical Muslim by presenting counterarguments. His or her own deep-seated convictions make his or her truth true.

The question is therefore what the person has experienced, and learned and what external influence has played a role in arriving at these radical ideas. Therein lies the key to building a bridge between two people with different opinions.


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