I feel like most people seek to ‘win’ an argument when they encounter someone who has an opinion that differs from theirs (of course, this might just be my perception based on what I see on social media sites such as Reddit or Twitter where it seems as though users get increasingly hostile with one another when they encounter opinions and perspectives that differ from their own).
However, I don’t think that this is the most productive approach to take when you encounter someone who disagrees with you because you don’t need to be aggressive and hostile when you can decide to engage in dialogue instead. For the most part, life is rather abstract and there is definitely more than a single way to interpret what’s going on around you, so why not use this to your advantage and learn and understand some new perspectives?
Instead of trying to aggressively dominate the other person with your opinion, and arbitrarily dismiss their opinion in the process, try to understand their opinion and perspective on the matter. You don’t grow and evolve by arguing with others, you grow and evolve by gaining new insights, opinions and perspectives. Everyone has their own unique set of life experiences that prompt them to think and perceive things in a certain way, so why not use this to your advantage? Encourage a dialogue with those that you disagree with, even if it means just simply saying to them ‘That’s interesting, why do you feel that way?’ and then listening to what they have to say.
While you’re listening to the other person explain their side of things, remember that just because you understand where someone is coming from and why they think what they do, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them nor does it mean you’re conceding defeat to them. It just means that you’re willing to listen to their side of things because the other party may have something for you to learn.
People usually aren’t disagreeing with you simply for the sake of arguing or to infuriate you (of course, sometimes this might be the case, but generally it’s not why others disagree or hold a differing perspective), so don’t feel the need to react so strongly when you find someone who has an opinion and perspective that varies from yours.
- Ask the person probing questions, such as: “That’s interesting. Why do you feel that way?”
- Encourage a civil and respectful conversation. Be willing to explain why you feel how you feel, but also be willing to listen to the other party explain their perspective.
- Aim to use objective facts, not emotions or subjective opinions, when having a collaborative conversation.
- Calmly explain your point of view.
- Remember that you’re disagreeing with the person about a certain topic, you’re not trying to go to battle against this particular individual.
- Find middle ground. Although you disagree with the other party, most likely there are parts of the topic where you agree. Specify these in order to build rapport with the other party, but then calmly explain why you disagree with other aspects.
- Use “I” statements, such as “I understand…” instead of saying “You…” Don’t make the other party feel as though you’re attacking them, and make it clear to them that you want to understand their side of things even if you disagree with them.
- Listen to the other party. It’s annoying when people just read a headline and don’t read the actual article. Make sure to listen to the actual substance of what the other party is saying, not just a snippet of what they’re saying or a summary of something that someone else said that they said.
- Eventually just peacefully disagree. Generally, being in full agreement on something isn’t always a prerequisite to being friends or co-workers.
- Be willing to walk away if the other person is being hostile or you find that you’re about to get hostile. Being aggressive isn’t going to force the other person to submit to your opinion, it’s just going to escalate the situation because they’ll meet your hostile tone with one of their own.
- Don’t just arbitrarily tell someone that they’re wrong because their opinion differs from yours. There’s a chance that you’re actually the one who’s “wrong”, and more accurately, there’s a good chance the ‘truth’ is probably somewhere in between yours and the other person’s opinion.
- Don’t get aggressive with the other person, because this accomplishes nothing but increasing the hostilities between the two of you.
- Don’t be closed-minded, because you’re selling yourself short by not entering a conversation with the idea that you have something that you can learn. Everyone, including those you think you disagree with, can teach you something, so be willing to listen to their opinion even if you’re going to filter out some parts of it later.
- Don’t feel the need to ‘win’ the argument. Keep an open mind because you probably can learn something from the other person, but if you start to feel that it’s not the best use of your time then respectfully exit the conversation before it gets hostile.
- Don’t fear conflict or disagreement, because honest conflict has more value than dishonest harmony does.
- Don’t only see and look for what supports your view. You won’t grow if you don’t open up your mind to other perspectives and opinions that you’ve previously been ignoring. Understanding other sides doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other side.
- Don’t try to make everyone you encounter agree with you and see things from your perspective, because it’s a waste of energy. Simply encourage a dialogue, and if that can’t manifest itself then move on.
Disagreements are a great opportunity to collaborate and evolve yourself as a person, and there are plenty of productive ways to make conflict work for you. Find areas where you agree in order to build some common ground, and then gain a further understanding of the areas where you and the other party disagree. Encourage a conversation, because the fact that you initially disagree doesn’t mean that you have to react to it with hostility and aggression.
Matthew Buckley is our Positive Psychology Correspondent. He is an Organisational Psychologist. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2010, and received his master’s degree in Organisational Psychology with a concentration in Conflict Management from the University of New Haven in 2015. His main areas of interest include career counselling, conflict management, emotional intelligence, employee retention, leadership and management, morale and motivation, personnel selection and recruitment, and self-promotion.
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