What should you do when stuck in a disagreement? The more you talk, the worse it seems to get and distance grows between you and a family member, co-worker, or person in your church small group. You start to fear that this disagreement may even threaten the relationship itself. You have good reason to be worried. Since the 2016 presidential election, nearly a third of people report they have stopped talking to a friend or family member due to political disagreements.[1] What can we do to start the conversation over in a more positive way?


We have found the practice of perspective-taking to be extremely useful. Claudia Hale and Jesse Delia, communication researchers specializing in the study of perception, describe perspective-taking as “the capacity to assume and maintain another’s point of view” and is, according to them, the “basic social cognitive process in communication.”[2] Notice at the heart of taking another person’s perspective is our ability to do two things. First, we have to assume, for a period of time, the thoughts, and feelings of another. This does not mean that we have to agree with their perspective, but rather, simply take it on in order to foster understanding. Second, we have to maintain that view even when we come across ideas or scenarios that may make us feel uncomfortable.

Perspective-taking in the Scriptures

A quick survey of the Scriptures uncovers a call for perspective-taking as seen in Hosea’s marrying of a future adulteress in order to understand Israel’s unfaithfulness, the writer of Ecclesiastes invitation to imagine life “below the sun” void of God, and assuming the female viewpoint of love and sexual desire prominent in the Song of Solomon which accounts for nearly 60% of all the dialogue. Even Jesus’ incarnation can be seen as divine perspective-taking leading the Scriptures to boldly assert that our high priest is not only aware of the human predicament but empathizes with us (Heb. 4:15).

Perhaps the clearest call for perspective-taking comes from a plea to pray for persecuted Christ-followers. In light of the deplorable conditions of jails in the ancient world, it makes sense the writer of Hebrews implores his readers to “remember those in prison” (Heb. 13:3a, NLT). It’s what the passage says next that relates to our focus on perspective-taking. Think of others “as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Heb. 13:3b, NLT, emphasis ours). Put yourself in their position and then take a close look around. Imagine it’s your pain. How would it affect your emotions and body? How would perspective-taking increase your empathy and sympathy toward another?

Applying Perspective-taking to Modern Disagreements

Many of us may feel comfortable imagining the plight of fellow Christians, but more challenging to engage in perspective-taking with a person with whom we strongly disagree. A person tells you how they’ll vote in the upcoming election and it shocks you! How in the world can you read your Bible and vote for him? The more you talk about your political differences, the wider the gap grows. It’s precisely at this moment, when tension and emotions rise, that perspective-taking is the most useful. Central to perspective-taking is an attempt to distance ourselves from our views long enough to explore and understand the views of another. Perspective-taking is not merely an intellectual exercise; it equally entails feeling the emotions of another — “as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Heb. 13:3, NLT). Admittedly, in today’s argument culture perspective-taking has become a lost skill and will require both a change of heart and practice.

Practice, practice, practice

Where can you go to practice addressing potentially explosive issues without risking damaging a relationship? After all, once you have a conversation you can’t take the words back. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a place where you could go and engage perspectives that may be challenging? A place where you could have a bad day and even privately yell at the computer screen — This view makes zero sense! It seems utterly crazy to me!

A few months ago, we hired a talented web-designer to create an interactive website where we can go to develop perspective-taking muscles: Endthestalemate.com. While the issues you will encounter on the site will eventually alternate over time, we start with the thorny topic of politics due to the upcoming presidential election. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they stay quiet about their political beliefs due to the fear of offending co-workers or losing jobs at the hand of managers who hold opposing views.[3] Since you’ll engage this site on your computer, or cell phone, it can be done in private without fear of offending those who hold views different from yours.

What can you expect? You’ll be introduced to two articulate Christians who strongly disagree about how to vote in November. Each will offer compelling reasons and even quote Scripture as support. However, you won’t start by jumping into their discussion. First, you’ll take time to examine your own heart attitude toward this topic. Is your heart ready to engage both perspectives, not merely the one with whom you agree? Why start with the heart?

Just as water shows your reflection, our hearts reflect who we are (Prov. 27:19). Next, you’ll listen to the two speakers and engage in perspective-taking with both. At first, you won’t judge their views or arguments, you’ll simply try to see the issue through their eyes. What would it feel like to be them? What fears, anger or hope surface? Last, you’ll be asked to consider how you talk to your friends about those with whom you disagree? Are you charitable, or harsh?

“To answer before listening,” asserts one wise ancient writer, “is folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13, NIV). Perspective-taking in today’s climate of division, rancor and demonizing others can be a way to reopen lines of communication when hope is seemingly lost. It may take practice, but the result could be conversations where shaming a person gets set aside for listening and understanding.


[1] Jeremy Peters, “In a Divided Era, One Thing Seems to Unite: Political Anger.” New York Times, August 17, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/08/17/us/political-fights.html

[2] Claudia L. Hale & Jesse G. Delia, "Cognitive Complexity and Social Perspective-taking," Communication Monographs, 43 (1976), p. 195. 

[3] “Poll: 62 Percent of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share,” Cato Institute, July 22, 2020, www.cato.org/survey-reports/poll-62-americans-say-they-have-political-views-theyre-afraid-share.