I’ve never enjoyed confrontation. I’m happiest when everyone is getting along and working toward a shared goal. And believe me, that happens a lot—although it’s hard to discern that if you scan the media these days.
So many topics are polarizing. It’s hard to have a conversation without something coming up that causes angst.
I try my best to search out the facts and create what I think are informed opinions. But many times, depending on the source, information that is portrayed as fact really isn’t. Other times, facts are facts but people disagree with them. Sometimes everyone has it wrong and only time will reveal the truth.
I’ve been searching lately for new ways to handle situations where there is a difference of opinion.
One option is to stay silent or divert the conversation to another topic. If the issue is not that important to me, I like this course of action because it’s the most prudent.
Another approach is to ask questions. I have a Facebook friend who frequently posts questions pertinent to the headline of the day. She is curious about how people think. Asking questions is a good way to gain an understanding of how the other person came to their opinion.
Stephen Covey, in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Getting the facts may be another approach. But in today’s world it is extremely hard to discern the facts on complex topics.
There are nuances to everything. Someone even coined the phrase “alternative facts.” I think in some cases there actually are alternative facts, or maybe “opposing facts” is a better descriptor.
Even if two parties can agree on the facts, an individual’s personal history and ideals will affect how they view or interpret them. When we are passionate about a topic, emotions can sometimes cloud our rationality. We may not like the opposing arguments and may not be open to hearing what those on the other side have to say.
To keep disagreements from becoming emotional, consider a strategy used in debate tournaments. I was on the debate team in high school, and when we prepared for tournaments we gathered information on both sides of a topic because we didn’t know which side we would be arguing until the debate began.
We needed to be just as prepared to argue the side we didn’t agree with as the one we believed in. Knowing both sides can also help you understand where the person with the opposing viewpoint is coming from.
One last suggestion is to refrain from conflating the people representing different views with the issue itself.
My friend and I are on different sides of the aisle on a few political topics. When he looks at a particular politician who actively campaigns against something my friend strongly believes in, he tells me he has a visceral negative reaction to that person.
I’m guessing it is human nature, but it’s not particularly productive when discussing an issue.
At the end of the day, keep in mind that 2020 has most of us operating at a heightened emotional level and doing whatever we can to try to understand. Taking the emotions out of conversations that include opposing views may give us greater peace of mind.