Some wise marriage advice I once heard was, “Always fight naked.” Disagreements just seems to resolve themselves more quickly this way.
However, because we shouldn’t fight naked with everyone, and as our opportunities to disagree with others seems to be ever expanding thanks to the Internet, it’s important to figure out how we can disagree with others and not lose our minds or our friendships in the process.
Last year after the presidential elections, I shared on Facebook whom I had hesitantly voted for, and in turn a friend told me she lost respect for me and unfriend me due to my choice. She felt we could not disagree on something important and remain friends, much less have a calm, rational conversation about our different ideas.
Each week there seems to be another controversial issue that leads some folks to share their opinions in hateful ways and some other people to disagree in equally nasty ways.
How can we disagree in ways that are helpful not hurtful?
1. Be a learner. BEFORE we even form a hard-core opinion let’s consider — have we listened to the other side? Have we given any time, effort, or thought as to why someone might feel differently than we do on this issue? Our lives are incredibly unique. Just because we haven’t experienced something or seen it happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to someone (or even a lot of people). Just because it isn’t our reality doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s.
Imagining how others may feel is often far from reality. I remember many things I imagined about how I would raise kids before we had our daughters. Boy, was I insane!!
2. What are my motives anyway?? Why do we want to share this opinion? Are we showing off, are we trying to pick a fight, do we want to express ourselves, are we hoping to influence others to join our viewpoint?
If your goal is to express yourself (and not lose friends who are different than you) or to actually influence others to consider your perspective, then it’s valuable to write in a way that doesn’t belittle those we’re trying to speak to or treat them as the “enemy.” Sometimes it makes us feel smart or superior to write in a way that talks down to others, or “puts them in their place”, but if we want to have others actually consider what we are saying, this won’t work.
It seems that the people who communicate in the loudest most hateful way often only have friends who think like them so their statements are irrelevant to affecting change because their only audience is people who already feel the way they do. If we want people who might not agree with us to actually listen to us, we should write assuming that all kinds of people will read what we are writing. How do I to make people feel who may think opposite of me? Am I alienating people when my point was to get more people to hear me out?
An alternate and often more effective approach to sharing our beliefs, is to instead invite people to join us in a conversation so we can work through our perspectives together with others.
3. Listen and be willing to dialogue. After sharing our feelings, let’s not be so sold on our ideas that we can’t listen and consider other viewpoints. It’s okay for people to disagree with us!
First of all, it’s okay because we are all different people, so we will never see eye to eye on everything. This isn’t necessarily bad; it’s part of the beautiful diversity of people.
Second, it’s okay because people’s opinions change. Sometimes people need to talk through or defend their views while they are processing our differing opinion. Some people might even change their minds and agree with us at some point. We should give people an opportunity to change (even if that change is not immediate) without writing them off.
Finally, it’s okay for people to disagree with us because (GASP) sometimes we are wrong. We need to help each other reconsider our ideas if we are not thinking correctly about something.
4. Don’t take it personally and give grace. Instead of feeling like people that are disagreeing with us are attacking us, what if we just take disagreement as a beneficial back and forth conversation — not a competition to win?
We also need to give others grace knowing that each of us is unique and has unique experiences. Some people will never understand where we’re coming from, and we will never understand where they are coming from. Our personalities, our cultures, our families, our experiences, our preferences, our beliefs, etc., mean we will many times have a strong opinion about something that others will feel the complete opposite about. Many people live in at least a partially different reality than we do.
5. CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE DISAGREEMENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE! Let’s stop being afraid of people disagreeing with us. Someone thinking differently than us doesn’t have to shake our confidence or make us feel like he or she doesn’t like us.
When we peacefully accept that it’s normal for people to disagree with us, we can gain a more well rounded view of what people different than us have experienced and how they feel. Not to mention, it often helps bond us closer with people when we can disagree but still care for each other.
And in the end, we don’t have to agree with someone to care about him or her.