Disagreeing Isn’t All Bad.

Avoiding disagreements with people you care about does not help create stronger relationships. Whether it’s a marriage, friendship, or professional tie that binds you with another person, differences of opinion can not just help you understand each other better – they can strengthen your bond.

Conflict is inevitable in life. The conflict is not what matters; it’s how each person chooses to handle the conflict. If disagreements involve negative statements, name-calling, body language insults such as eye rolling, or invoking the silent treatment, they’ll tear down the relationship.

On the other side of things, people who show respect, admiration, and in the case of romantic relationships, affection, experience a strengthening of their relationships.

There are several no-muss-no-fuss ways you can bring a little more goodwill into any discussion or disagreement no matter who the “other” person is. If you are committed to following these general guidelines, I’ll be delighted to hear from you regarding how they have not only increased the effectiveness (and happiness) in these individual relationships but also how taking a calmer approach has helped lower your stress level.

  1. My clients know what the first step is because it’s the first step for almost everything. Take a deep breath. Breathing deeply infuses your brain with the oxygen it needs to work at its most effective level. Without breath, you’re not going to be able to do any of the rest of this.
  2. Practice curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity does the exact opposite of relationships. It’s the absence of curiosity that kills those. Everyone likes to be understood and heard. The only way for you to actually hear the other person is to be genuinely curious about what he or she has to say and the origin of their opinion/outlook. You don’t have to agree, but developing an earnest sense of curiosity will mean a lot to anyone with whom you communicate – especially in a situation of disagreement.
  3. Own it. Be responsible for your actions, words, and have an understanding that no matter what comes about in your life if you accept responsibility for it, then everything that comes afterward will be easier than it would have otherwise been.
  4. Take a break. There’s no shame in needing a time-out. Quite the opposite is true, actually. People who have the presence of mind to be able to say “I need a bit to think about this; the ideas are swirling around in my mind and I want to make sure when I communicate them that I am doing so appropriately.” If the person with whom you are disagreeing refuses to allow you a break, take it anyway; that is a sign of low emotional intelligence and low impulse control (and a bullying tactic) that to which you do not have to give in.
  5. Be kind. In all things practice kindness; if this is an argument with a close friend or family member, practicing affection in the middle of a disagreement will not only cool things down, but will show the person you do not care for him or her because you always agree, but rather respect and care beyond the little upsets of daily life. Being able to reach a place where you can be affectionate with someone in the middle of an active disagreement shows an incredible amount of restraint, but also a high degree of emotional intelligence and long-range thinking ability.
  6. Ask a lot of clarifying questions. What if you are absolutely the one who is correct in this disagreement? What do you get out of it? The thrill of being right? The justification of proving the other person is incorrect? What you need to understand in all of this is that the primary thing each person in the argument (including you) wants is to understand that she has been heard, understood and that her opinion is respected. By asking a lot of questions of the other person it shows him that you want to understand and hear him, and in turn, respect him. Asking clarifying questions will also take you out of the place of being defensive or offensive and into the place where relationships are built. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Quote: Steven Covey)
  7. Do not use sarcasm. I sincerely hope those who know me best were not in the middle of drinking something while reading that statement; otherwise, at this point, they’re probably cleaning off their tablet screen. I have the gift of a sharp tongue, quick wit, and an extreme level of sarcastic expression. It’s easy to fall into that hole, and sometimes it can be quite amusing, however, mid-disagreement is not the appropriate place for sarcasm. When used in this way, sarcasm causes hurt, scars, and can even destroy relationships.
  8. If you get to this last piece, the chances are you already have it, however, it needs to be included. Practice humility. Being humble goes a long way. I’ve been in situations before with people who will argue until the cows come home (and they don’t even have any cows!) and also in which those people were most certainly in the wrong. If in those arguments I acted with pride, the communication would have broken down. Adopt humility. It’s not easy; practice doing it. If you can master humility when you’re in a hot-headed moment I promise much of the rest of your life will be easier on you.

There are also a few questions to ask yourself when you’re disagreeing:

  1. So what? (Why does this really matter?)
  2. Then what? (What happens after you prove you are right? Or the other person proves he is right?)
  3. How will the outcome of this argument impact your life in 5 days? 5 months? 5 years? (If the answer is “not much,” then please consider disengaging)

One of the biggest course-corrections I help my clients make is letting go of things that do not belong to them. That last question may help heal a multitude of disagreements because usually, the answer is “not much,” and usually when people argue they’re letting something get in the way of their realistic view of the bigger picture.

Disagreements can and often do bring people closer together.

Jim & me years and years ago…

One of my favorite people, Jim, and I can butt heads harder than two mountain goats. We like to blame it on Irish heritage, but really it’s just because we’re both stubborn. It seems the more we argued years and years ago, the closer we became. Though sometimes I thought we may mortally injure each other, we did not. Sometimes I won the argument, but more often he did (not because he was right – because he was my boss. HA! Take that, Jim!) and the thing that caused those disputes to act like glue instead of repellant was that no matter how heated they became, at the end of the day there were two people who expressed admiration for each other, respected each other, sought to understand each other, and even if one or both of us said something we shouldn’t have during the disagreement we’d end it in kindness.

Jim is not just a former boss (twice over… two companies) and mentor; I consider him a brother. That type of bond couldn’t have happened without a little of that head-butting action.

In all relationships communication is key. If you need help polishing your communication, let me know and we’ll get to work on it. Improving your communication skills can make an incredible difference in lowering your stress levels.

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