Disagreements are a part of every relationship. While it’s common for me to hear that an individual “prefers to avoid conflict,” the ability to argue well is actually healthier for a relationship than functioning within the myth that conflict drives people apart (Lerbe, 2010).
Unfortunately, I think many of us function from a false perception that those we disagree with want or need to be right, causing us to enter conversations listening to respond versus listening to understand. Then when things turn explosive, we abruptly disconnect with the curt response of “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
In reality, we can often avoid burned bridges and instead forge connection in those moments of dispute by simply validating the other person’s perspective.
Think about it, in your moments of greatest security, what is one of the key conditions you encountered? Chances are it's a sense of validation - of worthiness.
One reason I’ve observed people avoiding validation is that they’ve confused this communication tool with agreement. If I say, "you've been hurt by my actions" or “you’re frustrated by the current circumstances,” I fear that the other person is hearing "you are right and I am wrong." So instead, I focus on the negative – the deficiencies, the failures, or the places where MY expectations have not been met. Consequently, what comes next is often defensiveness, avoidance, or attack.
So, what does it take to build more effective communication strategies when we wholeheartedly disagree with another?
1. Observe and identify your emotions as well as those of the other person.
Take an inventory of those emotional implications on your physical and mental state of being. Are you tense? Are your thoughts jumbled or racing? You may need to step away momentarily. Research shows that when our emotions escalate, our ability to engage in rational conversation quickly dissipates (Engel, 2004). Ask to table the conversation for a few moments to process and/or decompress; but commit to come back! Avoidance is not a strategic approach to bridge building.
2. Radically accept that things may not change.
Shift your focus away from winning to establishing a common ground. It might take creativity, but it is rarely, if ever, impossible. Perhaps the connection is over shared emotional experiences, or a mutual respect for the worth of the other. You may have to think or look a little deeper, directing your eyes and engaging your focus away from the tension points.
3. Be committed to taking the time to listen through tough dialogue, to navigate uncomfortable space by listening to hear and validate.
Yes, it will make you squirm. It will be uncomfortable. But I’ve never heard anyone say that great relationships come from easy circumstances.
Lerbe, L. (2010, August 8). Argue or avoid? Why fighting back is a healthier choice. Retrieved from:http://www.rodalewellness.com/health/avoiding-conflict
Engel, Beverly (2004). Honor your anger: How transforming your anger style can change your life. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.