By Mike Wilson, Confident Parents Lead Team Writer
History tells us there are critical events which alter what we once thought of as our “normal” way of life. Normalcy is what we are used to and creates our comfort zone. However, we now continue to live in complicated times. It seems that since Covid-19 hit, it created a storm of unknowns that shook our normalcy. Additionally, the effects of political commentaries on issues such as the social justice movement, policing, elections, the events of January 6th and biased news outlets have popularized opinions that have created divisions among us. As a result, our conversations have shifted from “I have my rational opinions on fixed topics” to “I have an emotional response to changing, uncertain topics.”
Expressing personal thoughts on our current reality can be challenging. This is especially true when conversing with family and friends. The consequence of sharing our feelings with individuals we are not emotionally close to frequently does not result in a sense of loss. Yet, the outcome of tense discussions with family and friends is different. With these people, there exists strong emotional ties and a back history of shared experiences which have linked us together. Family and friends are people with whom we have established long-term relationships. Consequently, disagreements can create a devastating emotional response. Debates in these types of relationships can create a situation where the discussion becomes heated with each person stating justifications for their opinions and adopting an unwillingness to concede. The conversation becomes a tug of war of beliefs as opposed to a conversation based on facts and evidence. The result can involve each person becoming defensive and feeling as if the other person is trying to put them on the spot.
Because of previous discussions my two teenage daughters have shared with me regarding difficult conversations they’ve had with some of their friends, we came up with strategies they could use to handle disagreements. They attend a school in which the majority of the student population has similar opinions on current events which, in many cases, meant their friends’ thoughts differed from the opinions of my girls. So, during these discussions, several of their friends just assumed my daughters thought the same way as they do. My kids come from a household where we are open to all types of diverse dialogue and thoughts. Even if we disagree, we talk it out and move on. However, when somewhat controversial topics with their friends came up, my daughters’ initial reaction was to just smile and say nothing. Then when they got home (their safe zone), they would share the conversations with me. My response was that their approach worked but when they didn’t share how they felt, their friends really never got to know them. So, as we continued to talk about it, we brainstormed some non-threatening ways they could share their opinions. That’s how the following list of strategies came about. For example, the strategy they’ve found the most useful is: “That’s an interesting point and in my opinion…” If the person wants to argue about it, they simply say that we can agree to disagree, and they move on. They also try not to talk about politicians or use names of individuals because the conversation becomes personal. Instead they focus more on the impact of policies and try to keep the discussion open-ended.
The following are simple strategies we can use when disagreeing with family and friends while sustaining a positive relationship.
Accept the other person’s personality type.
When interacting with friends and family, you know in advance if they are argumentative, passive, sensitive or open to divergent views. As a result, you should know how they will respond to opposing beliefs.
Listen to the other person’s entire thought.
Don’t interrupt no matter how much you disagree.
Once the person has finished talking, use validating terms such as, “I know many people feel the same way” or “that’s an interesting point.”
Don’t use judgment phrases like “you are…” or “people like you…”
Own your response.
When responding, use I-statements” such as “I think…” and “In my opinion…”
Try not to take it personally.
Although individual thoughts are based on opinion, remember you are expressing your point of view and not trying to change the opinion of another.
Agree to disagree.
You don’t have to work to find an agreement in order to end a conversation in a satisfying way. Instead, it’s important to accept that close friends or family might continue to hold differing opinions. You can hold that difference and even tension that might go with it and still show care and respect for one another.
Having honest and meaningful conversations with family and friends is essential in strengthening our relationships. Through dialogue, we learn about the thoughts, feelings and interests of other people. However, holding opposing viewpoints can cause conflict. What we must remember is that family and friends are part of our support system. As a result, maintaining positive relationships with these key individuals is more important than any opinion regarding a current issue.
Author Mike Wilson is the Outreach Coordinator for Harris County Department of Education, CASE Program and host the Making After School Cool podcast. Mike is the father of two teenage daughters in Houston, TX. Check out the Making After School Cool Podcast at https://case4kids.podbean.com.