Don’t lose your head.
It’s a volatile time in the world right now.
Thanks to politics and the desensitizing anonymity of social media, over-the-top arguments have become everyday occurrences. People don’t “respectfully disagree” anymore. You’re either for them or against them. You’re either the best person ever or the worst person ever.
That can make it hard to have productive arguments with people, particularly if you have a relationship with them. Because, while we can tune out online pundits, what are you supposed to do if your co-workers, family members, or even your spouse has social or political opinions that drive you up the wall?
How do you maintain a civil relationship and keep your inner attack dog from charging every time you hear the other person say something you find offensive? What are your options in that situation, beyond attacking or remaining silent?
In our newest “The Facts of Love” video, YourTango Expert (and clinical psychologist) Dr. Susan Heitler breaks down a 3-step process that can help you find constructive ways to maintain an open dialogue with people you disagree with. (The advice is taken from her new book, Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief From Depression, Anger, Anxiety, and More.)
You can see Dr. Heitler’s full comments in the above video, but, if you don’t know how to disagree with someone without screaming your head off, follow these 3 steps and they just might help you safely express what's on your mind without getting into an argument.
STEP ONE: Pause to cool down.
When someone says something offensive during an argument, it can enflame your emotions (and understandably so). But that’s not always the best state to be in if you want to respond. Your intelligent and salient points might be lost under the tone of your voice and whatever insult you throw at the other person.
The best way to defuse those situations are to simply step back and take a moment to collect yourself. (You might even need to distract yourself briefly to get back to a more comfortable mental state.)
It’s not a sign of weakness. You’re just taking your angriest emotions out of the equation and waiting until you’re not only ready to talk rationally, but you’re also ready to listen more rationally too.
STEP TWO: Listen up for what you can agree with.
This can be hard, particularly if the other person has said something TRULY reprehensible.
However, if it’s possible, it’s always good to try to find some aspect of what they’re saying that you can agree with on a broad level. It allows you to validate their opinion — you don’t have to agree with it, you’re just saying you heard it — and it gives you a small piece of common ground that you can try to use to bring the argument back to a more stable middle ground.
So, if the other person says something you find distasteful about immigration or a mutual friend, try to find some non-awful element of what they’re saying (ex. “I can see why that would concern you”) and move on from there.
STEP THREE: Add your perspective.
This is an important step that builds off Step Two. Let’s assume that you did the impossible and found some common ground with the person you’re disagreeing with.
You took their completely antithetical opinion, you acknowledged that you heard them, and you even cited one element (however small) in their statement that you can agree with.
The next step is taking that common ground and steering it back towards a place where you can constructively and non-confrontationally express YOUR opinion. Because your dialogue shouldn’t just involve you peace-keeping or staying silent. You need to remain honest to yourself as well.
You can add your perspective by taking your small point of agreement — i.e. “I can see why that would concern you” — and using it to deliver your opinions — i.e. “I can see why that would concern you… and, at the same time, I really believe that…”
Validating their rhetoric (in whatever small way you can) allows you the opportunity to find a positive, polite way to make sure your perspective will be heard as well.
Will these three steps always work? NO.
Occasionally, someone will be so adamant and so offensive that you’re never going to be able to engage in a civil conversation with them.
However, these three steps will GREATLY increase the odds that your dialogues will remain constructive and you can leave the confrontation knowing that you did your part in trying to keep the lines of communication open.
And sometimes that’s all you can do.
If you want more information on how you can confront feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (without medication), you can contact Dr. Susan Heitler at her website, PrescriptionswithoutPills.com. She’s there to help!