Ep 274: Escaping the Villain Role

Justin Lee, author of Talking Across the Divide, joins us to explain how parents can have more productive disagreements with teens by overcoming the ego protection instinct and using storytelling to find common ground.

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Full Show Notes

Parenting a teenager often feels like an ideological battleground. Their values, interests and worldviews can seem completely foreign to our own, causing rifts in our relationship almost daily. Navigating these choppy waters requires strategy and finesse so that we don’t widen the gap even further.

This week, we’re learning how to bridge divides from someone who has made connections his life’s work. We’re joined by Justin Lee, author of the new book Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree With and Maybe Even Change the World.

Justin has spent over 20 years facilitating thoughtful dialogue between groups that typically don’t see eye to eye. As the founder of the world’s largest LGBTQ Christian advocacy organization, Justin has firsthand experience bringing together people of divergent backgrounds. Now, he’s sharing his tried and tested methods for overcoming conflicts by focusing on shared interests and storytelling.

Even when parents and teens sit on what feel like opposite sides of the ideological spectrum, we likely have more in common than we realize. By approaching rifts strategically instead of confrontationally, we can narrow divides and start effecting real change.

The Ego Protection Instinct

When tensions run high, our first instinct is often to double down on our position. After all, no one wants to look like the “bad guy” or feel embarrassed when realizing they’re wrong. This ego protection instinct kicks in, causing both parties to dig their heels in further in order to save face.

Justin explains that the key to working through this instinct is to approach the conversation calmly and strategically. Making teens defensive will only cause them to reject our perspective entirely. By listening first instead of accusing, we make space for their viewpoint while getting them to lower their guard. This thoughtful approach makes them more receptive later on when we share our own story.

Telling Our Story

When it comes time to share our side, Justin explains that facts and figures often fall flat. What really helps the other person relate to our position is hearing the story behind why this issue matters so much to us.

By explaining our personal experiences, worries, disappointments and more, the other person gains empathy and understanding as to why we ended up with these strong beliefs. Storytelling helps them step into our shoes, seeing our views as reasonable instead of attacking our character. It also allows both parties to recognize each other’s stories as valid without having to denounce the other.

Plotting a Way Forward

Without a plan for how the conversation should end, we risk leaving the other person hurt or resentful. Justin encourages parents to think critically about what they actually want to gain before diving into tense talks. Do we want to “win” by making the teen feel stupid? Or do we want to gain a better understanding between us?

By visualizing a story in which the teen’s past actions were reasonable and our new way forward makes sense, we provide a path that allows them to save face while still growing. With thoughtful compromises focused on shared interests rather than contradictory positions, we stand a better chance of inching closer together.

No matter how far apart parents and teens may feel at times, Justin proves even groups with the most divergent views can find common ground through strategic, thoughtful dialogue. By leading with empathy and storytelling, we model good communication while bridging ideological divides one conversation at a time.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Justin Lee
Justin Lee
Justin Lee is a nonprofit executive and author who uses nuance and empathy as tools for global change. Justin first gained an international following for his work as a Christian ministry leader helping heal church and family divisions on LGBTQ issues. (For more on this, see Justin’s book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.) Today, Justin teaches audiences to apply the same powerful bridge-building techniques to all sorts of difficult issues, from political polarization to family disputes. (See Justin’s book Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree With—And Maybe Even Change the World.)
Ep 274: Escaping the Villain Role
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