It’s a given that we all disagree with people. That’s normal, healthy and perfectly ok. We disagree with people who hold different values. Differing religions, politics, lifestyles, and priorities are common fodder for disagreements. When there is a disagreement with someone outside our circles, it’s easier to speak out and present our case! But, when the disagreement is with family or friends, there are a wider range of unhealthy responses. Fortunately, there are effective ways to handle disagreements.

Let’s get the unhealthy and extremely difficult responses out of the way first!

STUFFING IT – Some are unwilling to express themselves because they aren’t comfortable with disagreeing. So, they stuff their feelings. They don’t say anything about anything and they probably believe that it will be possible to never mention the disagreement. They pretend that all is well. Withholding a viewpoint might seem like the easiest route but it can be a disaster in the long run. People who stuff problems don’t forget the situation or the feelings that they are afraid to express. In fact, these feelings usually fester over time which eventually results in emotional explosions. Explosiveness always makes disagreement worse. Always. Don’t do this! Ever!

BACK STABBING – Some are passive aggressive. My previous post on passive aggressive people make the pitfalls of this approach very clear. Please! Don’t even consider this route for a second! If you can’t stop yourself, seek a therapist! Everyone will be better off if you do!

ACCEPTANCE ON A SPIRITUAL PATH – Acceptance requires being ok with the differences without any negative feelings or judgments. I don’t see too many people who are ready to take this option. However, I do see it as a viable option for those who have done their spiritual homework and who are willing to stay on top of their choices. If a person is willing and able to respond this way, I honor the choice. Don’t try it if you aren’t ready because it could end up looking exactly like “stuffing it” which doesn’t have a happy ending.

The last option is RESPECTFULLY DISAGREEING which skillfully used results in closer relationships and increased understanding. Since it is a SKILL, it almost always needs to be studied and practiced before any disagreement arises! It requires a very specific way of thinking and way of communicating with the person with whom you disagree. It works best if both parties have learned how to disagree respectfully and have agreed that they prefer to handle disagreements this way.

In order to disagree respectfully it’s critical to understand what it isn’t. Respectfully disagreeing isn’t an attempt to win something. By definition, winning requires that there be a loser. When someone loses, their ideas are proven wrong through a combative process. It’s this combative attitude that prevents respectful understanding and prevents the possibility of a satisfactory resolution of the disagreement. Instead of working towards a common understanding, two sides attempt to prove the other person wrong. Even if just one person approaches a disagreement with a combative attitude, it’s very difficult for the other person to resist protecting themselves from the attacks by engaging in the combat. Combativeness impacts how each listens to the other. If both have a vested interest in proving the other person wrong, they will listen to find a weakness in reasoning or an emotional vulnerability to ply. The listening is about looking for flaws as counterarguments are developed. The mindset is one of closed-mindedness and self-centeredness. Defensiveness and past hurts are often triggered. A combative approach implies a conclusion will be reach and that conclusion assumes that someone will be right and someone will be wrong. Obviously, this approach excludes caring about the other person’s feelings. The relationship is devalued. Each side gets so invested in their position that they apply all their energy towards winning rather than understanding. But, if you win the debate but lose the relationship or harm someone you care about, what did you really win?

To prevent being carried away by emotions at the moment of the disagreement, both sides need to choose to use the RESPECTFULLY DISAGREEING option which involves:

  • Each person chooses to seek an understanding of the other’s position in order to resolve the disagreement with the relationship intact and an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides.
  • In addition to actively listening to the other person, both sides need to very carefully reconsider their own viewpoints.
  • Both sides need to seek an outcome that is even better than their separate staring points.
  • Open-mindedness is mandatory.
  • In order to really listen to another viewpoint, one must at least momentarily let go of their perspective so the commonality can be found.
  • It is very important that both sides care about the other person and their relationship.
  • The respectful part means that both sides must accept the possibility that the other person could have valuable pieces that can combine with your own to create a good outcome.

Easy? No, not at all. But, the hardest part is having the conversations before the disagreement which sets this scenario up properly. It’s easy to want to assume that there will be no need for all this. But there is a need.


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