One of the most common questions I get from readers is what my tools are for navigating disagreement. This is usually in the context of homosexuality, Tarot, or yoga, when talking to others who are more conservative or have differing theological beliefs.
I’ve had a lot of practice on this front, considering that I grew up in a conservative family, in the Bible Belt, and I’m something of a black sheep. I’ve navigated this fraught terrain by trial and error, and intuition. The lessons I’ve learned in the 12 Steps have helped a great deal as well.
The first and most important step is to get your priorities straight. Is your priority to win the approval of another person? That will lead you down a blazing path to torture and self-abandonment. That leaves you feeling crazy, helpless, and hurting. There is no winning when we try to control others: other people will do or think what they want, and we had best relinquish control of them.
Instead, make your priority to conserve your energy. You have a limited amount of life force for a very short period of time on this planet, and we should focus that energy on the things that matter the most to us and that create the greatest possible good. Our emotional and mental stores of energy are not a renewable resource. Your first priority must be to protect this store of energy. Allowing others to manipulate how you use that precious resevoir is a great tragedy. A facebook fight might be tempting, but at best it’s a distraction, a drain on your precious focus and energy.
With this priority in mind, the following are my steps to navigating disagreement.
- Be kind. Don’t hurl insults, no matter how stupid the other person may sound. If you do hurl insults, it exposes your true intentions: that you care little about persuasion, and prefer the pleasure of flaunting your dominance over others. It doesn’t matter what you may think or feel of the other person, hurling insults and calling them names will not bring them to your side. If your goal is to win, you are shooting yourself in the foot by not being kind.
- Listen and then repeat back what you heard. “What I hear you say is…” and, when applicable, say “I understand why that would be concerning to you.”
- It is at this point that you must make a crucial decision. Is this person genuinely curious, or just looking for a fight? Is the person coming to the debate as an equal, willing to reason together, or do they just want to control you?
- If they simply want to control you, or you see the conversation going nowhere, state that you just don’t share their concerns and leave it at that. You don’t need to get into why. State that you understand where they are coming from, but that you just don’t share their opinion. And then move on. Don’t let them drag you into a debate.
- If they are coming from a place of genuine curiosity and want to dialogue, still be clear that, while you understand where they are coming from, you don’t share their concerns. Then express why. Allow the conversation to unfold.
- I also find it helpful to say that I can always be wrong. I don’t believe I’m wrong, but there is always the possibility that I’m missing something. This disarms the conversation, and allows people to be more vulnerable in the conversation.
How do you navigate conflict and disagreement? How have you learned to cultivate peace and protect your time and energy? Let me know if the comments.