How To Disagree Without Ruining A Friendship

With the election in the news, you may encounter some tricky conversations over the coming weeks...

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by Josh Smith |
Published on

With the election in the news, and divisive global politics causing friction between friends and family, we live in a time of sensitive topics and strong feelings. It’s tempting to avoid hot-button conversations when we know a loved one won’t agree – but I believe we need to embrace them.

Divisions are made worse by the fact that we hide behind our phones. On social media, algorithms amplify the information that will sustain our attention; this means that the opinions we’re shown are increasingly extreme. Meanwhile, communication on screen is clumsy: we post things we wouldn’t say face to face, and in WhatsApp chats with friends, rogue punctuation can trigger a feud.

As a result, our social lives have become an algorithm of their own. It used to be common that within marriages, two people might vote differently; now we struggle even to be friends across a political divide. To find a way forward, we need to stop shouting into the void of the internet, and relearn the art of healthy, in-person discussions – starting with more empathy.

No conversation is perfect

We often go into sensitive exchanges feeling nervous, worrying that we might not get our point across. Say to yourself and others, ‘I am nervous about this conversation. I might not get it right, but it’s important we try.’ If you walk away thinking, ‘I haven’t changed my mind but I now understand another perspective,’ that’s a success.

A conversation is not a grudge match

The goal is not to try to ‘win’, as politicians often do, but to improve our understanding and find solutions. Stay curious. Instead of shutting an idea down or talking over someone, let them speak. When it’s your turn, ask ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘How did you arrive at that view?’ If you feel you’re being shut down, use a respectful request: ‘I have been listening to you – please could you now listen to me?’

Never raise your voice

We have all had difficult discussions that have led to raised voices or screeching meltdowns; this happens when we feel like we are not being heard. Shouting means the other person stops listening, because they feel disrespected, threatened and uncomfortable.

Listen actively, and twice as much as you talk

This means putting your phone away, maintaining eye contact, and using verbal affirmations like, ‘I see’ or ‘I understand’. In moments of conflict, listening is both your armour and your weapon, helping you to identify the real issue and resolve it.

Favour facts over emotion

Especially when dealing with people who try to provoke you. Keep calm, breathe and stick to the facts.

How you deal with someone who you disagree with is a marker of your character

As long as you have shown respect by listening and being curious, you can leave with your head held high – and you’ll learn something in the process.

‘Great Chat: Seven Lessons For Better Conversations, Deeper Connections And Improved Wellbeing’ by Josh Smith is out now, published by Lagom

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