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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Disagree Peacefully

            Do you ever find yourself arguing with your spouse, boss, co-worker, friend or family member about something that seems to have no solution?  Of course, you see it one way and they see it another, and never the twine shall meet, it appears.  To add to the predicament, you feel strongly that you’re right, and they are adamant that they are.  To further add to the difficulty, figuring this out is important to both of you, while persuading the other to understand your side of it feels imperative. 

            Let’s play with an example:  Your spouse and you disagree as to whether or not to let your 16 year old drive some friends to and from a supervised party.  He’s just gotten his driver’s license recently and you’re not comfortable yet with his driving at night with friends in the car.   Your spouse, on the other hand, thinks that this will be good experience for him, and that he won’t learn responsibility unless he’s given it.   You both certainly care about your son’s safety, but you disagree vehemently about how to keep him safe, and can’t seem to find a solution.  As you discuss the situation, you find your voices rising, full of angry and frustrated emotion, as each of you strives to be understood and heard by the other.  The debate continues in a heated manner until one of you either stomps out of the room, or throws up their arms in frustration and gives in.  I think you might agree that in such a case, neither party ends up peaceful or satisfied.  There is simmering hostility and a deep separation that then occurs between the two of you, and if not handled in a healthy way, threatens to cause a lasting rift. 
            Disagreements can happen anywhere anytime; for instance, at work, when a team is working on a project, and two or more co-workers disagree about the best way to proceed; with an ailing parent, when two or more siblings are conflicted about the kind of care to give; with partners who live together and differ in the way they manage money; or with a boss and employee whose styles of working are quite dissimilar.  I’m sure you each have your own stories – ones that continue to perplex you, and ones that carry their own emotional burdens.
            Through time, I’ve discovered certain guidelines that can help us resolve the continual battles in which we find ourselves, given the fact that two people can see the very same situation quite differently.  I’d like to offer some of what I’ve learned from personal experience as well as working with clients, students, friends and family members.

*Perceptions

Remember that each of us has our own unique filter through which we see the world; i.e. our own perception or perspective, based on our past experiences.   No matter how “right” we may believe we are, we will always feel better if we refrain from judging another.  The truth is, we really don’t know how past happenings flavored the other person’s thinking, and it’s always good to keep in mind that this guy or gal is doing the best they can with what they know at this point in time.  Their opinion seems every bit as “right” to them as ours does to us.

*Listening

Whenever possible, make the attempt to really “listen” to your opponent.  Listening with your mind and your heart is important.  Try to really “hear” and “honor” what this person is saying and repeat it back to them to make sure you’ve heard them correctly.  Doing this requires that you put your opinion on hold temporarily, but it offers the best possibility for your position to be heard and respected also.  After you’ve shown consideration for your challenger’s viewpoint, state your own.

*Time-Outs

When you find that you’re becoming emotional, and you’re having difficulty listening, take a short time-out, and use this time for prayer, contemplation, meditation, or private emotional expression.  There have been plenty of times I’ve found myself needing time to cry or to scream into a pillow, call a friend, or read some spiritual literature.  Often, during these times, we ask inwardly, to be shown a new way to see this situation or for an idea which we hadn’t yet thought of.  And it is imperative during these time outs to remember that just because someone else is unable to see it our way, it doesn’t mean that we are wrong, bad, worthless or insignificant.  Hugging ourselves may be just what we need to return to this person with an open mind and heart, willing to compromise or do what needs to be done.

*Thinking outside the box

Often, when we’re embroiled in an argument with differing points of view, we             lose sight of the fact that there may be many fresh possible solutions to this    problem.  We can become so stuck in wanting to be heard or in our righteousness, that we completely ignore other options.  For instance, if we refer back to the example about the 16-year-old driver and the conflicting opinions of each parent, when we allow ourselves to think outside the box, we might come up with new alternatives.  Perhaps the teen is permitted to drive his friends if he calls his parents when he gets to the first friend’s house, and as soon as he reaches the final destination.  In addition to that, he may be required to call as he leaves the party.  Or maybe the parents agree to let him drive his friends to a party after another 3-6 months of driving on his own.  Another alternative might be for the teenager to sign a contract with his parents that he will not allow music in the car with his friends.  You get the idea.  There are countless variations to workable solutions.

     All in all, disagreeing peacefully is an art, and one that needs exploration and practice.   But if you work at finding and offering respect to yourself and your adversary, if you listen to, and understand that another’s perception is as real to them as yours is to you, if you take time-outs when needed, and if you keep thinking outside the box, you’ll eventually discover that disagreement does not need to rob you of your peacefulness.  Differing points of view are part of life and living.  Learning to disagree peacefully is not only desirable, but highly possible for each and every human being.