When was the last time you engaged in a conversation that ended up going south? In the midst of so much polarization, it’s easy to do these days. I’m slowly learning the importance of engaging in healthy dialogue, rather than entering into a heated debate.

This fall, I enrolled at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology to work on a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. I’ve met some new friends and am gaining new insights at the start of my knowing venture.

One of the biggest takeaways from this first trimester was learning the importance of remaining curious while engaging in conversation. I learned that the opposite of curiosity is contempt.

Remain Curious

Today, I hope to encourage you to do the same-to remain curious while engaging with others. In order to enter into healthy dialogue, it’s wise to take a step back and look for clues to recognize if a person is operating out of curiosity or contempt.

Esther Meek, author of The Little Manual of Knowing, describes two ways to approach our knowing venture. One is described as “loving-in-order-to-know” while the other approach is “knowledge-as-information.”

Along with curiosity, it is just as important to lead with love. But how do you know if someone is engaging with you out of love?

Take Notice

It’s important not to make assumptions because that gets us into all kinds of trouble. So rather than assuming if someone is operating out of love or self-defense or other motives, take notice instead.

Here are three big clues to determine if the conversation is being led by love. Be sure to go through the clues and ask them of yourself too! We can’t make progress if we don’t lean into humility and recognize if we too, are operating out of contempt rather than love.

Clue #1: The person has genuine love + respect for you.

How has this person showed up for you in the past? Do they affirm who you are as a person? Do you spend time with each other in real life? How do they make you feel when they talk to you?

Kindness must be present. Otherwise, you might be setting yourself up for harm.

Clue #2: The person is seeking to understand your perspective.

Are they wanting to know more in order to see life through your unique lens, and learn about your experience? Watch closely for mockery. If the person uses words against you as a way to trap you, they are not being genuine in their knowing venture. Jesus experienced this.

Sometimes people seek information to find a reason to prove you wrong. Proceed with caution.

Clue #3: The person respects your boundaries and is safe.

Do they respect your personal boundaries? Or do they expect more than you can give? Do you normally feel seen and heard by this person? Or have they used manipulation as a tool to control you?

Sometimes it’s hard to notice at first, but the more you pay attention, the easier it will be to notice contempt.

Proceed with Love

It’s not always easy to move toward health in conversations. It’s important to recognize when engaging is helpful vs harmful. It may take time to learn how to determine the difference between a safe and unsafe conversation.

You can be bold and speak truth in love, but be mindful about how you engage and with who you engage and why you engage. This is part of the journey to health and wholeness. May love be the driving force as you seek to remain curious while engaging with others on the knowing venture.