I love challenging conversations. I love stirring up discussion. I love hearing others’ opinions. I love sharing my opinion (sometimes a little too much).

I don’t think these kinds of conversations happen enough. Often, we avoid opening up uncomfortable topics because they just seems like one big can of worms.

And it’s true. There are a lot of worm cans in life that we’re afraid to open.

Sometimes we leave conversations like this feeling terrible and wound up. But we need to talk about the hard stuff. We need our opinions and thoughts to be challenged by opposing viewpoints.

Yet discussing difficult topics like politics or theology or social issues can quickly turn sour. So how do we engage a quality conversation without it ending in a shouting match? It’s all about managing ourselves and taking a particular posture of communication.

Here are 6 things that I’ve learned from talking about the hard stuff:

Ask Good Questions

One of the most practical pieces of advice my mother has ever given me. By asking meaningful questions and pointed follow up questions, you’re allowing the other person to express their point of view in an elaborative manner. Not only are you gaining a better understanding of their opinion, but you’re also giving them an opportunity to feel heard and to possibly convey their thoughts in ways they’ve never been asked to. Asking questions diffuses tension and allows for depth of conversation to occur.

Listen

There’s nothing worse than having a discussion with someone of an opposing view who would rather talk over you than listen. Don’t be that person. Rather, be the listener you hope others would be. Know when to stay silent and let the other person finish their thoughts before you chime in with your counter point.

Don’t Take it Personally

While someone’s opinion might infuriate you, people are entitled to feel differently than you. You should never take it as a personal affront if you don’t see eye to eye.

Everyone comes from differing places of understanding that are bound to be different from ours. This is good. We need people in our lives that think and see differently than we do in order to challenge us and get us thinking.

If you take this posture of understanding, you’re less likely to walk away feeling burned and your friendships will be thankful for that.

Don’t Expect a Resolution or Change of Heart

Drop the expectation that the discussion is going to end in a neat little bow, or that you’ll change the other person’s mind, or that your opinion is superior. You probably aren’t going to change your opinion, so why should they? Conclusions might not occur—and that’s OK.

Remain respectful of the other person’s right to think for themselves. If you’re arguing for the sake of changing another person’s mind, it’s going to put you on the offensive and will most likely close doors rather than opening them.

Be Open to Change

While you can’t account for another person and shouldn’t expect them to change, you can take charge of yourself. Be open to the possibility that your own opinions can change. Or at the very least, be open to thoughtfully weighing the other person’s point of view.

You never know what God might have in store for you. These discussions are meant to enlighten us and give us a view we might not necessarily have thought of. Be open to what others have to say and they’ll more likely be open to what you have to say.

Know When to Quit

There will come a point in your discussion where it’s gone from fruitful to futile. Know when to fold and walk away. When things start to escalate and get heated, it’s probably time to wrap up the conversation. If you find yourself checking out, no longer listening, or just plotting your next move, politely end the conversation. Getting into a shouting match is going to be more harmful than helpful.

While there are more nuggets of knowledge I’ve mined from my deep discussion successes and failures, these are the ones that have helped set the tone. It’s easy to get wound up and heated, but by accounting for ourselves and keeping these things in mind, you can experience enriching and challenging conversations without losing friends.

So don’t fear the can of worms. Have at it with a sharp can opener. God is bigger than it all anyway.