- There will be many times in your life when you will not agree with others on key topics and important life matters.
- There's a right way and wrong way to agree to disagree. Stay on point, listen, and don't get personal.
- If there is no room for you to change your thinking, then there is no reason to have a discussion.
As much as we may align with someone, there are still times when we just don’t agree. And that’s okay and really very normal. It would be highly unusual to agree on everything all the time.
Who we are as individuals is a result of who we are from birth, but who we become is largely molded through the influence of those around us. Our immediate family, our extended family, our friends, our community, our education, where we live, and many other factors influence us strongly and help us develop our opinions, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. We may choose to disagree on many topics with those whose upbringing is vastly different from our own. We may move out into the world and learn that others have opinions different from our own but nonetheless, as valid as our own.
I’ve observed, as I’m sure many of you have, that the world has become a very divided place. Especially on social media, you find people with very strong opinions and you just know that there’s no room for discussion. If you disagree, insults eventually fly, and usually, anyone with an opposing view is personally degraded. That’s what happens when people truly believe that their opinion is superior to everyone else’s and they cannot entertain that there may be any other point of view. Ultimately, poor you, you just don’t get it.
Admittedly, though, we usually don’t go this extreme route with people we know well, and with whom we interact with on a regular basis. But there are still times when there is tension and friction because of different points of view and/or perspectives. The bottom line is, we need to find ways to allow for personal expression and opinion, to be inclusive of everyone’s beliefs, and to do this civilly and respectfully.
So here are some tips to help you to discuss topics where there are opposing views and even more so when the topics are loaded and sensitive and where people are heavily invested.
If you’re going to have a discussion where there are opposing views, make a concerted effort to put your opinion and judgment aside. I know that’s hard but it’s the only way you can be fair to the person you’re engaging in discussion with and the only way to fairly assess the topic. People often rush into a discussion with different points of view and beliefs ready to counter anything that’s said that’s opposed to their point of view and opinion. If there’s no room for change in your thinking, then what’s the point of having a discussion at all?
You’d be surprised how difficult this is to do sometimes. It’s often hard for people to just be quiet and take in the words that someone else is speaking. They want to jump in and give an opinion, counter an argument, and immediately disagree. And, of course, depending on how hot the topic is, people want to tell you how they feel and express their emotions. Listening is an art. Try to keep a clear head without thinking of the next response and try to be present so that you hear everything as it’s being said to you.
Keep to the facts.
When there are opposing views, there are at least two sides to the story, and sometimes more. Before you even engage in a discussion, be clear with yourself about what your point of view is and why you’re very invested in seeing it the way you do. Sometimes people just want to be right and they’ll fight to the finish in a discussion in order to prove that they’re right. When you keep to the facts, your argument is logical and straightforward. The facts alone should keep a discussion lively and honest.
Keeping to the facts also gives you the opportunity to learn about someone else’s thinking, beliefs, and point of view which you may have never encountered before or fully understood. Ultimately, this may help you expand your own way of thinking and feeling and open you up to more diverse ideas and views.
Keep emotions out of it.
This is also hard to do, especially if you are deeply invested in the topic. What often happens is that a discussion begins and people are usually civil and willing to listen. But if things escalate and the discussion gets heated (and out of hand), people often lose their patience, and tempers flare. It gets personal. Shouting occurs. Insults get flung around and people inevitably say things they don’t really mean. So the discussion gets muddied and becomes an excuse for people to harshly judge, criticize, demean, and verbally abuse. If you move into personal territory, you’ve gone too far.
Know when to get out.
When you’ve tried your best to have a discussion with opposing views but can’t get beyond a certain point, then know when to call it quits. You may still want to assert your own point of view, and that’s fine, but maybe not with the person you’ve engaged in discussion with. When people want to hold on to their own viewpoint and not be swayed or convinced to embrace another way of looking at the topic in question, then it’s time to shake hands (or touch elbows) and respectfully agree to disagree.