When individuals disagree on a subject matter, whether it’s politics, religion, home projects, budgeting issues or such, very often the discussion escalates into a full-blown fight. Tensions rise as each side tries to convince the other that their beliefs or ways of doing something are more valid that the others, that they are right on their position. In my conflict resolution training program, I stress the importance of refraining from using the terms right or wrong. To do so indicates an insecurity that needs strengthening by proving oneself superior over another. The vast majority of issues we disagree on are not matters of right or wrong: they are simply issues of perception, preference, or opinion. Only issues of morality or fact can be deemed accurate or false. To recommend that people refrain from debating certain topics that they disagree on is unnecessary. Debates can be beneficial on so many levels such as enabling both sides to learn something new, to entertain the possibility that there is some validity to what the other is saying, to hone their communication and listening strategies, as well as learning tolerance and acceptance.
So how can two people strongly disagree on a topic and discuss it without having it escalate into verbal violence or aggression? There are five key strategies one must employ.
Confidence: When an individual feels strongly that their beliefs, ideas, feelings or ways of living life are valid, they are able to submit compelling facts to support their side. They are strong and secure in their position and comfortable with what they are presenting to support their side. Confidence does not feel threatened by those who disagree as they feel that no matter how strongly the other party feels about their position, a poised person can hold their ground and not acquiesce to their ways. Confidence, a belief in one’s abilities, enables the person to listen open-mindedly without fear of how the other might react or respond to them, nor what opinion the other person may form about them. Good, bad, or indifferent, confidence says, “I’m fine with whatever the outcome of our conversation is.”
They are also interested in sharing their thoughts without the need to convert the other party to their ways nor show them the error of theirs. There is no competition; only shared dialogue.
Those who are insecure or uncertain present a weak perspective easily crushed by the other side. In this instance, they feel at a disadvantage and may easily resort to yelling, raging, insults, criticisms, threats, demeaning comments and so on in order to intimidate the other party to back off, thus giving the illusion that they won. However, one who is secure in their beliefs creates a win-win situation for all, allowing the other side to maintain their dignity and beliefs as well.
Assertive: One who is assertive is gifted with a strong sense of self, a belief that they are capable of handling themselves well in any given situation. Regardless of the nature of the disagreement, an assertive person cares deeply about the well-being of their opponent with no interest in degrading them by proving them to be error. Differences are viewed as assets rather than obstacles and a lively debate is welcomed. Comfortable with taking the initiative, they are highly focused on finding common ground with the other party and are adept at directing the conversation on a positive course. If one party veers off on a tangent, they can readily bring them back into focus. If the other party becomes irate or hostile, they are well-equipped to set some boundaries and diffuse the incident. Assertives have a quiet air of inner strength and confidence about them; they neither rant nor yell nor threaten nor belittle. Their tone of voice is steady, strong and clear. They are leaders with viable skills and concern that keep a potentially volatile situation calm and productive.
Respectful: Respect is a treatment that we all seek yet few actually know the meaning of the word. To respect means to value. All human beings want to be treated with dignity and respect, as though they matter. Reverence does not have to be earned – it is a God-given right of every person ever born into this world. Yet some seem to believe that they have the authority to designate who has greater worth than another. If this is the mindset of one who engages in an oppositional discussion then there is sure to be frustration, anger, and hostility from the other side. It is critical to view the other person as worthy as yourself, to begin the discussion on an equal playing field so that no one feels greater or less than the other. This simple message, that you matter as much as I do, enables the other party to lower their defenses and trust you in the sense that you have their best interest at heart as you do your own. Even though I may vehemently disagree with your position, even though I may not understand it, a respectful individual recognizes that their beliefs are equally as valid to them as mine are to me. Being polite in that one simple regard dictates the nature and course of the conversation and keeps it on a positive and constructive note.
Fair-minded: One of humanities basic needs is to be treated fairly. This involves providing sufficient time for the other person to present their side; to listen without criticizing or interrupting; to refrain from making fun of or trying to disprove their points. Finding some valid points sends the message that you recognize the legitimacy of what they are saying even if you do not agree with it. Being fair means commenting on the issues, not criticizing the person (attack the issues not the individual).
If the discussion is one what needs a resolution, a fair-minded person will seek some sort of compromise. Their desire to make certain the other party is satisfied with the outcome is critically important to them. They will typically reassure them by making certain their needs are being met first and/or giving them more than they are expecting or entitled to. They fully embrace the belief that it is better to give than to receive and that it is in giving that we receive the most.
Solution-oriented: Not every disagreement will be resolved nor are they meant to be. Sometimes a debate is simply a sharing of ideas, beliefs, feelings or position. You will never convince a Republican to join the Democratic party or vice versa. Nor should we. It is in our differences that we find growth and expansion.
However, in those situations where an agreement is imperative, it is key to begin the conversation with the end goal in mind. What are we seeking to accomplish? What absolutely needs to take place in order for this issue to be put to rest at the satisfaction of both parties? Having a clear goal enables one to lay out a straightforward plan of action to achieve those goals. They are not sidetracked by superfluous facts or opinions, they avoid blame and finger-pointed, and they stay focused on finding a solution. They listen to all sides and take into consideration all perspectives and suggestions in addition to keeping the process short and sweet.
It’s critically important to enter into any discussion with a positive and open mind. Seek to listen, to learn, to understand, and to care about. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, take a moment and practice the SWaT Strategy: STOP the conversation, WALK away to emotionally disconnect, and TALK yourself calm. When you have regained your composure, return with the intent to have a successful and productive conversation. Utilize the 5 Qualities – confidence, assertive, respectful, fair-minded, and solution-oriented – and you fill discover a simple path to having a non-violent fight.
Ephesians 4:2 “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
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