It’s over now. It seems as if the entire country has been split in half. We can never agree on much, but rarely has an election polarized public opinion to such extremes. These are touchy subjects for most of us, and you don’t have to agree with every person just to avoid conflict.
My friends and I sit around for hours going back and forth about foreign policies, social injustices, regulations and political candidates. We don’t always have the same views either. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we were all on the same page. But before we leave, change the subject or end the conversation, we always agree to disagree.
It’s easy for us to be so invested in our own opinions that we forget to acknowledge and respect those of others. And it’s also easy for us to hold back our views out of fear that they won’t be respected. Both of these problems can be fixed and open up room for healthy discussion in a time of what seems like universal disagreement.
To avoid shying away from these conversations or allowing them to get out of hand, we must respect everyone and their views. Invalidating an opposition doesn’t make it any less accurate in their minds, nor does it make room for understanding or possible agreement.
- This first step is listening.
This is the most basic principal of attention. In Anne Bogart’s “And Then, You Act,” she said, “to be heard, really heard by another person, is to be healed.” To listen is to respect, and it allows us to let our guards down. When we pay attention to others, we are drawn into their lives, their stories, their opinions and values, and we show them that what they’re saying matters. In most cases, if you show someone that you appreciate them sharing their opinions, they’ll reciprocate that respect.
- Using “I statements.”
In the 1960s, Thomas Gordon, creator of of Parent Effectiveness Training and Leader Effectiveness Training and founder of Gordon Training International, developed the concept of an “I statement.” Goodtherapy.org defines these statements as “a statement that can help a person become aware of problematic behavior and generally forces the speaker to take responsibility for his or her own thoughts and feelings rather than attributing them — sometimes falsely or unfairly — to someone else.”
When we use these statements, we’re not accusing, blaming or invalidating someone with an opposing view. We’re telling them how our feelings are affected and we’re helping them better understand why we, personally don’t agree. For example, “I feel upset that...” or “I feel strongly about...” are common “I statements.”
- Maintain a professional attitude
Because political discussions can hit home for a lot of people, it’s likely emotions will get in the way of productive communication. But once we put a guard up, our reactions and actions quickly change for the worst. We must remember to keep our voices at a respectful level so that it doesn’t seem as if we’re attacking someone else. Even on social media platforms, using respectful words and watching what we say can help maintain a positive tone in the conversation. It can be a challenge, especially if you’re passionate, but because we may never all agree on everything, this kind of discipline will allow us to work and communicate with just about everyone in the future.
It won’t always be mutual respect in a debate or conversation, but if we all make it our goal to take on the task to be mature and respectful, we’ll be one step closer to developing an environment where we can have open discussions with opposing views.
When you leave a conversation, take away what was discussed, think about it and come to a level of understanding. Don’t hold grudges or treat a person differently based on what was discussed. Some things may never be resolved, and we may never see eye-to-eye, but the first step is having the conversation. We just have to make sure that we do it the right way.