“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”
I don’t like arguments. When I was younger, I got into them more often…sometimes down and dirty. Maybe it’s hormone levels starting to tank, or maybe it’s experience, but I can’t be bothered arguing much anymore. Instead, I’m more interested in listening to other people’s opinions even if I think they’re out in left (or right) field. Nowadays, when people tick me off, I try harder to see their perspective rather than going for the jugular.
Think of how many times you’ve been involved in some kind of argument or conflict in your life. I would bet a LOT. And think of how many times you’ve felt bad about it after the fact. At least some of the time, right? But why? Usually because you reacted in the heat of the moment and got mean…maybe even nasty.
Disagreement is part of the human condition. Just scroll Facebook for lots of anecdotal evidence. I don’t have an issue with people disagreeing, or arguing, but I don’t like it when things degenerate into name calling and personal attacks. For example, I admit to having left-leaning tendencies (although I don’t have any more patience for the radical left than I do for the radical right). Do you think calling my more conservative minded friend a right wing nut job during a debate on the political or social issue of the day is going to enhance the conversation?
Now if you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you’ve likely noticed the term mindfulness pop up from time to time. More and more, I try to practice mindfulness, and in doing so, I’ve discovered that if you’re more mindful, you can engage in conflict in such a way that neither party comes out a bloody mess (figuratively speaking).
So now I’ll share with you some things I’ve learned about “disagreeing.” Try to remember a bit of this the next time you’re embroiled in conflict – or better still, before.
Before I get to the tips, I’d suggest that you first engage in a contemplative practice. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and long walks outdoors are some examples. What these practices do is connect your mind and body and help you become more aware of yourself and others. This can be helpful when tension in the room rises. You’ll still feel what’s going on – like your pain, frustration or anger – but if you’re somewhat experienced with contemplative practice, you may end up less overwhelmed. Contemplative practices may also help you have more insight during challenging situations.
It’s a good idea to take a breath. Pause, just for a moment, before you open your mouth. For some reason, this seems to focus you before you launch into a tirade. Are you still heating up? Pause again. Take another breath.
Close your mouth and listen. I’ve been involved in enough arguments, and witnessed enough of them, to know that most of the time, people try to talk (or yell) over one another to the point where no one can get a word in edgewise. That gets stale…fast…and then, if they’re not still interrupting, people just tune out. But here’s a dirty little secret: If people feel they’re being heard, they’re more apt to listen. Try it. You can thank me later.
Trying to find some common ground is helpful. We usually approach situations from our individual perspectives and biases. Everyone does. But if you actually listen, you may find that you and the person you’re arguing with both want a similar end result. For example, you want to buy a junior a dirt bike for his birthday. Your partner argues that’s way too much to spend on a birthday gift, and junior will end up being a spoiled, ungrateful kid.
Common ground: You both want to give junior something for his birthday. If you keep that in mind while you’re “debating,” the situation may be easier to work out. If not, well sorry, but maybe you should have had these discussions before junior was born. (Hint: If you’re not diametrically opposed to dirt bikes, maybe your birthday gift is half the cost of the dirt bike junior wants and he pays the rest – or whatever).
When it comes to conflict, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean you have to collapse into a sobbing heap on the floor because someone looked at you the wrong way. Yes, sometimes you may be exposing yourself to further attacks if you let yourself be vulnerable, but often, opening up about tender emotions will melt that aggression. Often, this will let the other person open up so that you can find neutral ground.
Finally, you’ll get a lot further if you forget the blame. Listen to the other person, listen to yourself, and try to be a witness to what’s happening. Take it in, let it go, and you’ll move to the next level, meaning you’ll be in a better position to acknowledge the various feelings that arise.
If you just found out your partner is leaving you or that you’re about to lose your job, being more mindful will likely not make you feel better in the heat of the moment. However, if you can be more present during periods of conflict and other difficult situations, you’ll be in a better position to process what’s going on and come to a peaceful resolution. As well, by demonstrating respect, there’s a better chance that both sides can come to a civil resolution even if it’s the proverbial “agree to disagree.”
You’ll disagree with people, you’ll argue with people, but keep it civil, be respectful and “fight right.” Even if things don’t go your way, your credibility will remain intact, and no one will be able to accuse you of being a blustering, hotheaded idiot.
Bonus: Click here for an interesting article on why kids should be exposed to disagreements.