The inability to disagree and maintain a relationship with someone is the breeding ground for bitterness, unnecessary pain, and isolation. Not only that, but it’s often the source of what fuels division and inhibits your ability to be a well-rounded person. Some of the best leaders are able to surround themselves with people they disagree with. It helps prevent them from creating blind spots.
When Danielle and I were dating, her uncle gave us a Myers Briggs test. Our results came in showing we were complete opposites. To explain what that meant, he picked up a book and said “Certain things are going to be challenging for you guys because you’ll see the same situation differently. Your marriage may be harder than those who marry someone just like themselves, but you’ll also be a stronger couple because of it. There’s a need to see both sides of the book to get the whole picture. When you’re wired the same, you only see one side.”
I’ve always remembered his analogy and applied that same principle to other relationships in my life. It’s ignorant to think I’m able to fully grasp a particular topic, even if I’ve spent time researching it. I’m seeing it through my lens which cannot see all sides.
All that said, let’s dive into the ways you can actually turn a disagreement into an opportunity to strengthen a relationship.
Be slow to react.
When you realize you’re treading into the waters of disagreement, be intentional to pause before you respond. It’s often a two-second pause but is long enough to prevent going down an emotional spiral that clouds your ability to articulate the things that matter to you.
“Personally, I love President TRUMP and appreciate how he’s disrupting politics as usual.” Did your blood just boil a little? Did you either want to close this page or start to build your internal argument? If so, that’s the thing I’m asking you to hold for a moment emotionally. It enables you to push past your default and ingrained reaction to finding out why the person is saying the statement.
It may be the person loves the president because he’s forcing a conversation where there hasn’t been one before, but they disagree how he’s going about it. Not only that, they may even agree with you on some of the things which caused your blood to boil.
Without this pause, it’s easy to shut down a conversation before it has had a chance to develop and only serves as a wedge between you and the person you’re talking to.
Clarify what the other person is saying.
I had a substitute teacher when I was in sixth grade write ASSUME on the chalkboard. Then she broke it down in a way that has stuck with me ever since. If you don’t know what I’m referring, let’s just say the word doesn’t make either party look good in the end.
I’ve had several conversations that could have easily offended me if I didn’t take 10 seconds to echo what I heard them say. When I did, they responded “No, that’s not what I mean. I’m saying that……” It helps me better understand the person’s heart, not just the topic we’re discussing at the moment.
Care more about the relationship than the topic.
When there’s no relational equity, it’s easy to dismiss what someone’s saying, but it doesn’t work when you’re married or have friends that you have value for. This is one of many areas social media has eroded healthy relationships.
We are “connected” to hundreds or thousands of people, but in reality, you don’t have much of a relationship with them. I’ve said it before, I don’t have a problem with social media when it’s used in a healthy way. Just don’t let it trump your ability to remain present and connected in a way that matters.
Don’t feel the need to justify your position.
There’s a difference between communicating your opinion and needing to justify why you feel a certain way. The first creates dialogue while the other rarely leads to a positive outcome.
In my life experiences, it’s often the insecure who feel the need to be justified. They are communicating to me that their value is directly tied to their ability to sway people into agreement.
Listen. Don’t interrupt.
We all want to be seen and heard, especially when it’s something we care deeply about. This may sound basic, but it’s actually one of the best ways you can draw closer to someone you don’t agree with.
It validates them when you look them in the eyes, give them space to share whatever they want, and bite your tongue no matter how much your blood boils.
Find common ground.
When you approach the conversation with a black and white mentality, you’re setting the conversation up for failure. It drives a wedge between you and forces someone to pick a side. Common ground isn’t something you have to force, but you’d be surprised how many points you may agree on if you’re willing to look for them.
Ask yourself the question: What aspects do I agree with? Start your side of the conversation with connecting to those points before expressing your views.
Doing this will defuse a person’s natural tendency to have their guard up. It lets them know you have certain beliefs, viewpoints, or theologies that differ within the topic you’re discussing. Not that everything they’re saying is wrong.
Be willing to be wrong.
Let me ask you this, do you still believe EVERYTHING you did ten years ago? I would hope your answer is no. Otherwise, it may be time to take a hard look in the mirror and assess why you’re stuck in the past. There are things I believed 10 years ago that I’m embarrassed to admit now. There’s nothing wrong with feeling your personal convictions 100%, but it shouldn’t pin you into a narrow-minded approach to life.
When I know I’m in a conversation where the person disagrees, I say things like “I could be wrong, but based on my current beliefs and life experiences, I believe…” or “Personally I don’t see X the way you do, but you could be right.”
If you’re passionate about something you haven’t done much research in, you can say, “I haven’t researched X much, but from what I’ve learned I believe….” When you pad your opinion with those types of disclaimers, it communicates that you could be wrong, and the reality is you may be.
This point ties into what I said about the relationship. Ask yourself which is more important. Being right or proving your point in this conversation, OR appreciating the good you have in your relationship and be ok with disagreeing on a particular topic.
Caring more about the moment or feeling the need to sway people to your beliefs whenever someone disagrees with you will eventually lead to isolation and bitterness.
Guard your heart against offense.
When someone says you’re wrong about something, don’t take it as a judgment of your character or an insult. There’s a difference between someone being passionate and personally attacking you, even though they can sound similar at times.
I understand there’s a time to stand up and defend yourself, but before you do, it’s wise to pause and assess the heart behind a statement. When you react out of an offense, it only perpetuates more disagreement and clouds your ability to communicate clearly.
Become curious instead of angry.
I’ve become baffled, intrigued, and fascinated by what forms people’s belief systems. Doing so has helped me ask more questions than making broad assumptive statements. This simple shift makes the other person feel validated because your questions show you care.
This is something which hasn’t come quickly to me, but when I started being curious, it helped me lower my guard and hear what the other person is saying. Not only that but being curious about the other person drops their guard too. Curiosity can set you up for an honest, productive conversation instead of an inflammatory argument.
See the bigger picture.
Some of the best debaters are able to communicate their viewpoint through painting an overall picture. They take into account society, church, personal beliefs, family dynamics, what history has shown, and the list goes on.
You’re able to find common ground the more you can look at a topic from multiple angles. This also helps broaden your perspective and potentially highlight an area you may be wrong. (Which leads back to point seven) This is a learned art but possible to master over time.
Be willing to agree to disagree
My wife and I have been married 10 years, and we don’t agree on everything. That doesn’t mean those points have priority over our love, history, or passion for one another. The relationship is more important, and because it’s our focus, we’re willing to agree to disagree.
There have been times I echoed back what someone said and heard “Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying….” The longer we talked, the more entrenched we both became about our views, which at the time were opposite.
When you see this happening, there has to be a point where the relationship is more important than the conversation. Because I cared about the relationship I chose to lovingly end the conversation with “Let’s just agree to disagree on this point.”
You’ll never agree with 100% of the people in your life 100% of the time. Maturity is, understanding this reality and adjusting your knee-jerk reaction when a hot topic comes up.
The Challenge: Apply any one of these points next time you find yourself disagreeing. You may be shocked to see the different outcome than what you’re used to… but I could be wrong. 😉
This post originally appeared on Josh’s blog. Used with permission.
Josh Cearbaugh is a life consultant with a unique ability to lead people through transformation. Through a combination of consulting techniques, he helps individuals to identify, and then dismantle, the crippling cycles where the majority of us find ourselves stuck. He has a passion for connecting people to their heart and helping them create practical strategies to change their lives. Most Recently, Josh’s consulting practice has been located in Austin, Texas. He met Danielle, his wife of ten years, in Mozambique while attending Iris Harvest School. They currently have two boys an one beautiful girl.