The Art of Disagreement
We've all experienced it.
Maybe a topic is brought up that touches a nerve.
Maybe you are trying to hold a civil conversation with someone who flat out refuses to acknowledge your varying viewpoints.
Maybe you're are just in a mood.
Whatever the reason, we have all experienced (more than once) that painful interaction.
You know the one.
The one where you start to hear pounding in the back of your head like you're sitting front row at a 90's heavy metal tribute concert. Or the one where you can physically feel the beginning stages of your body jumping out of your skin and tackling the counter speaker(s).
Considering the somewhat recent changes in our government and the emotionally charged "you v me" stance that many here in the DMV have taken on as a result, I've seen these "clash of the Titans" conversations pretty much on a daily basis since January 2017. As hard as it is to bite my tongue, I have refused to take part in these...spirited debates. However, witnessing them has led to a great deal of self-reflection on the art of disagreement.
Disagreement is an art to master. When passions boil over (or when you're just in that mood), it takes a great deal of self-restraint, collection of mind & body, and of skill, to maintain composure.
Just as artful is the ability to open yourself up to other perspectives.
Now, I am not at all talking about having to agree with opposing thoughts. Not at all. I am talking about truly hearing and respecting. I am taking about doing the best you can to understand where the perspective is coming from and how it came to be. I am talking about setting aside your own convictions and your own righteousness to seek knowledge. Guaranteed that mastering this skill will allow you to learn a great deal about others. And heck, it may even allow you to learn something new about the topic that is causing such a hullabaloo to begin with!
But the big question is, how do you master this art? The art of disagreement. The art of letting go, maintaining composure, and opening your heart and mind.
Just as all good areas of mastery, this takes time. This takes practice. This takes patience, reflection, and grit. However, once you master the art of disagreement, your life will be forever changed. You will find yourself walking away from debates feeling like a superstar. Drop the mic! Not so much because you "win", but because everyone walks away feeling heard, understood, civilized, and overall positive about the exchange.
So, what are some tips for mastering the art of disagreement?
- Before reacting, breathe.
- Take time to process what is being said. Pay attention to your physical reactions and internal talk regarding what is being said. What is your body feeling right now? What emotions are you feeling? What comments or sentiments triggered this response?
- Be sure your breathing is regulated and your body is calm before moving further. This may be a good time to practice a quick minute of mindfulness.
Convey an atmosphere of safety and respect.
- By controlling yourself and practicing whole body listening techniques (eyes on the speaker, appropriate gestures and nonverbal responses, displaying that you are open to conversation by unfolding your arms, nodding in rhythm with the speaker, facing the speaker, etc.), you will provide the other speaker with a sense comfort in sharing their opinion.
- By displaying active and whole body listening nonverbals, they will know that you are open to discussion, that you value their thoughts, and that they are safe to share with you.
Fully engage in listening.
- Rather than thinking about your response, rolling your eyes, interrupting, etc., fully listen to the speaker.
- Once they are done talking, take 2 deep breaths. Give yourself that time to think & respond with a clear mind, and give the other speaker time to prepare themselves for listening (which they will be more apt to do, knowing that you heard and respect them).
Play News Reporter and Validate.
- Ask questions. Try to understand where the other speaker is coming from and what led them to this line of thought.
- Explain that you respect and value their opinions, which is why you’d like to hear more and get a deeper understanding.
Conclude and Keep an Open Mind.
- While you most likely will not land on the same page by the end of the conversation, you will most certainly have learned something (either about the topic at hand, or about the speaker themselves). Cordially agree to disagree and thank the other speaker for being willing to share and to receive thoughts.
- You may even want to welcome further discussion! Kindly tell the other speaker that you would love to partake in a light and informative debate, should more information on the topic arise.
If you’d like some more thoughts on the art of such conversations, this book explains simple steps to getting your point across to others in a fair and respectful way.
OR, because sometimes you just need it, this book is a to-the-point good read about how to deal with that one person who is just off the handle.
Do you have any personal tips or stories to share regarding the art of disagreement? Please share in the comments section below!
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