It seems like we are ALL spending a lot of time arguing with other people these days— whether it’s about the current election, about issues that we feel strongly about, or whether it’s about something as “simple” as which way to run a fundraiser for the school.
There is never ONE best way to deal with conflict. To tell someone who is an introvert to “just go out to parties and socialize more” doesn’t solve anything. Likewise, changing someone’s conflict style isn’t likely in the cards. But, there ARE lots of things that we can LEARN to do which can help us to relieve our inner turmoil, and perhaps— just perhaps— get others to see things our way.
Take it back to preschool
When I was in high school, one of my best friends had a way of arguing that really cut me to the core. If I said something about someone else which was grossly unkind, or treated her in a way she didn’t appreciate, she would say “That is NOT OK.”
It landed like a punch straight to the gut, and it really upset me. I talked to her about how it made me feel, and I realized that it had a very powerful effect on me. It is one of the most direct ways of verbally stopping someone in their tracks. And the reason I think it’s so powerful is because of its simplicity. It sounds like something a preschool teacher would say to little Joey when he’s actively biting his classmate.
Other things which work similarly: “That is unkind,” or “That’s not how we talk about x.” Again, firmness, and standing your ground that you have boundaries, and there is behavior going on that you are unwilling to accept.
Use your strong, kind voice
Both those things are key— strong AND kind. When you are addressing others (especially others who are behaving badly), you need to be forceful, and yet kind. That doesn’t mean you have to be solicitous, or to agree with them. It simply means that you don’t get down into the mud. Mudslinging might feel great at the moment, but it immediately alienates the other person. Yes, you may say “They started it first!” However, as your mother said, if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you, too?
Mudslinging does nothing to convince the other person, and actually weakens YOUR position. Do you want to be treated with respect? Do you want to have a meaningful discussion? Do you want to change people’s minds, or even just agree to disagree? Then DO NOT DO IT.
What does winning look like?
Think about someone/something you disagree with. What is your ultimate goal? Is your ultimate goal to change something, or is your goal just to feel like you’ve won? Because, spoiler alert: If you feel like you’ve won, you actually haven’t.
No matter what anyone says, there IS NO SUCH THING AS WINNING AN ARGUMENT. There is helping someone to see your point of view. There is helping someone else to think through THEIR point of view. There is working together to make change, or even compromise. But if your goal is proving yourself right without actually doing the work of trying to understand where someone else is coming from, you’ve actually lost.
Yep— that’s right. Even though you schooled Grandpa, you didn’t change him. Your goal in speaking to other human beings should not be to humiliate them. It should be to find common ground.
How do you find common ground when it seems like there is none?
People who say things that are offensive to you often have a reason for their beliefs. It may not make rational sense to you, but there is a reason that they cling to it. Whether it’s just habitual thinking, whether it’s based on a misunderstanding of facts, whether it is a distortion of facts to fit their own story in their head… we ALL have emotional investment in our own point of view.
When people say things that are hurtful to us and/or that we think are misleading, one of the most potent things to do is ask that person
HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
Whether you agree with them or not is not the point— the point is trying to understand what emotions are running the show. Without knowing what emotions are running the show, you are missing key information which will help you identify the facts, opinions and arguments which THIS PERSON needs to hear.
One of the most potent ways to get someone to see another perspective is by asking them to look at the opposite opinion. To, in a sense, play devil’s advocate to their own argument. Ask them to put themselves in the other side's shoes.
Take, for example, that you have a friend who is a really picky eater, and they drive you nuts with their critique of your food. Ask that person to have a chat with you. Start by showing compassion. “I know you have stomach issues. I really try to imagine how hard that must be for you. But yet, it's really hard for me, too. How do you think I feel when you tell me that you can't eat anything I make?"
Give someone the benefit of the doubt
I know, this is a hard one. Let’s face it— there are lots of buttfaces out there who don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Yet I think the actual number of those people is probably a lot less than we would all assume. I will say this to you, just as I say it to myself: YES, THERE ARE DEFECTIVE HUMANS. BUT MOST HUMANS ARE NOT IRREPARABLY DEFECTIVE. Many humans have bad coping systems. Many humans have erroneous beliefs which fuel their disdain for other humans. But most humans are not evil. Most humans are not only capable of finding human connection, but they actually crave it.
I’m not saying it’s all going to work ALL of the time. But I really want us to consider how we speak to one another… even (or perhaps especially) the people we disagree with. If we actually want to BE the change we wish to see in the world, that’s going to take some tough listening, and doing the emotional work.
It’s ok to say “I can’t right now,” or to disengage. It’s also ok to re-engage. It’s ok to talk to those with whom you disagree and say, “Can we set up some ground rules about how we talk to each other? I really would like to hear your opinion, and I would like to have a conversation with you.You need to feel that I am respecting you, and it’s important to know I am being respected as well.
Go forth and engage in meaningful conversation. Or, sit on the sidelines, and add a word of support for someone else while they’re having a tough conversation. Be a force for positive engagement. Lord knows, we all need more of that!