How Do We Have Important Conversations? 4 Practical Tips.

By Sean McDowell Published on February 17, 2019

We live in an angry and divided culture. This is true for politics, ethical issues, religion and even sports. As a result, many people fear engaging others in meaningful conversations. We don’t want to get into unnecessary arguments, so we avoid the difficult issues.

In my experience, however, most people are willing to have important conversations when we approach them the right way. I have had wonderful dialogue with people on issues as divisive as race, abortion and even politics. The simple principle is to treat people the way we would want them to treat us — the “Golden Rule.”

Yet in reality, this is often easier said than done. How do we put the Golden Rule in practice? Yesterday pastor and apologist Mike Sherrard gave a wonderful presentation at the Christian school my kids attend (and where I teach part-time). He gave four simple, yet powerful points:

1. Be Holy and Filled With the Holy Spirit

In other words, before engaging other people in dialogue on sensitive topics, make sure you are living in obedience to Jesus. The reason is simple: It’s only when we have genuine peace in our lives that we can engage people who see the world differently with kindness, grace and generosity. It’s only when we first find our identity in Jesus, not in some position we hold, that we can treat people rightly amidst disagreement. I love the emphasis on looking in the mirror honestly and critically first. We need to learn to love Jesus so we can properly love others.

2. Hear the Person, Not Just Their Position

In other words, remember that people are more than their views. People cannot be reduced down to just a “brain on a stick.” While our worldview shapes how we live and see the world, we need to remember that people have experiences, relationships, hopes and dreams. It’s only when we take the time to truly hear about the person, rather than thinking about the next smart response to their claims, that we engage in meaningful conversations.

3. Speak Only When You Know What You’re Talking About

This is truly great advice. We tend to think that if we’ve read an article, listened to a podcast, or watched a YouTube video then we have a valid opinion. This may be the case, but often it is not. Rather than being quick to speak, we should be quick to listen, learn, and understand before speaking. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just ask questions or stay silent.

4. Show Love Through Words and Actions

The ultimate goal of having important conversations is to love people. Asking good questions, and truly listening to their answers, is one powerful means of expressing this. M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Travelled, once said that listening is the best way to love someone. Given the significant increase in loneliness today, which is (ironically) connected to social media, Peck is probably even more right today than when he said it. We all feel loved when someone truly hears us out.

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Let’s not shy away from important conversations. If you embrace the Golden Rule, and follow the four points Sherrard suggests, you might be surprised how often you find yourself in a meaningful conversation.

If you want to hear more from Mike Sherrard, check out my brief interview with him regarding his excellent book: Relational Apologetics.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Originally published at Reprinted with permission.

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