Back in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church gathered together for its annual denominational meeting. During the course of these meetings the bishops were involved in a heated dispute full of fussing and feuding. A few doors down the street another meeting was going on. The Bolsheviks had assembled together to plot the overthrow of the Czar. This marked the beginning of what we now know as communism. So what was the church arguing about while the empire was crumbling around them? Candles—were candles to be 18” or 22” long.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that disagreements spiral from minutia to out of control proportions that destroy friendships, marriages, religions, politics, and most every other subject in life. Humans, it seems, are wired for disagreements. These conflicts can be angry, awkward messes, or they can be civil exchanges of viewpoints that lead to better decisions at work and closer relationships at home. What makes the difference is usually not the issue at hand but how it is handled.
Words of wisdom passed down to us concerning the rules of engagement, provide basic rules on how to speak your perspective without bench-clearing brawls, threats of ending relationships, and turf wars.
Let’s begin with the premise that either you believe yourself to be absolutely correct, or that you believe that there is much to be lost if we lose the point.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1.
The Rules of Engagement Keep these in mind at your next impasse; some basic rules might help you avoid an unproductive (an endless).argument where everyone is going to part ways angry.
- Pick your battles. “You do not have to address every injustice or irritation that comes along, even though it is a mistake to stay silent when an issue matters and the cost of silence is feeling bitter, resentful, or disconnected.
- Understand the stakes. Even if you think that you know the other person’s issues, it can’t hurt to pose a direct question. Ask “What’s your real concern here?” You may learn that oftentimes they’re not really voicing it directly.
- Wait until you’re calm. When emotions run high, disagreements can turn personal, and that’s rarely productive. Recognize when emotions are charged, and don’t have the conversation until you have a cool head.
- Be respectful. If someone thinks you’re listening thoughtfully, they are more likely to respond in kind. An empathetic phrase, such as “I understand this is important to you,” can go a long way.
- Speak for yourself. Rather than criticizing others, or other positions, stick to expressing your own feelings and actions (“I felt hurt when…” or “I’m concerned because…”). “It’s honest and authentic when you say how you truly view a situation.
- Don’t interrogate. Try not to go on a lawyer-like attack with a litany of yes-or-no questions. This tack is aggressive, puts the other person on the defensive, and can belittle them.
- State the facts. If you have them, use them. Facts give opinions and feelings a lot more credibility. It also helps that “they aren’t personal or emotional,” so they can help make your disagreement constructive. Just make sure you really do have the facts. At the very least, you should be able to name your source.
- Speak to common interests. Keep the common goal and good in mind. Remember: If an argument turns nasty, nobody wins. Tell the person how much your relationship means to you and how much you value their view.
- Aim to clear the air rather than win. In many instances, the disagreement will end in détente. Don’t try to win the argument; it’s more important to focus on understanding why the other person thinks differently than you do.
- Consider compromise. It doesn’t get you exactly what you want, but it can be an effective way for people to overcome a disagreement and move forward. Remember: A compromise doesn’t have to be equal to be acceptable. However, it is important for you to understand what you’re both giving up and to be comfortable with that equation. You don’t have to feel happy about a compromise, but you have to feel you can live with it.
It is an eternal precept that each of us has the free agency, the ability to make choices for oneself, as well as the ability to learn the difference between right and wrong, and to make ethical and moral decisions.
Again, not everyone will agree with the concept of free agency, and each of us should be required or forced to comply with set standards … but whose standards, and what would you learn about making decisions and resolving questions that arise in life. This concept is evident today with those who tell the world “If you don’t believe as I think you should, we’ll kill you”.
This principle of free agency holds that it is wrong to deny someone of his or her free agency unless they have abused it to infringe against the agency of another, as it would bind a person from their own choices.
Disagreements with friends and family: How often they should offer unsolicited advice, who should they associate with, what is shared, and what constitutes the choices made in that relationship?
What to consider: Disagreements may have been years in the making, and therefore can take time to sort through. Many don’t stand on ceremony with family members, unleashing brutally honest (or just brutal) opinions with no fear of consequences. Disagreement with anyone close to you can be very raw; they are often enmeshed in issues and emotions that go back years. But in the interest of solving the problem, try to remain as civil and calm as possible.
When to defer: When an issue isn’t basic to your relationship, or when you’re on their turf. Just as you want them to adhere to your position, you can expect them to want theirs to prevail in their home.
Rule to remember: Pick your battles. Family and friends can have a tendency to not see you as being separate from themselves. You’ll have a better chance of being heard if you pick your battles rather than complaining about everything you think they’re doing wrong. Try to bridge awkward differences with a gesture of respect or affection. Instead of angrily confronting those close to yourself, be certain they understand that they means so much to you that it hurts when they act that way. Whatever the issue is, it’s usually about feeling disrespected or not cared for.
When to defer: When it looks as if those close to you will get roped in, which is unnecessarily messy, or when the discussion is about someone else lives their life. State your opinion and let her know you’re concerned, then let it be.
Rule to remember: Be respectful. Respect reflects the importance of your bond, you can open with the fact (and it should be a fact), “I want us to talk about things that matter because you’re important to me.”
When you disagree with someone, one of the best things you can do is to listen. It sounds so simple, and yet it is so often overlooked. Instead of lecturing, listen. Rather than arguing, listen and seek to understand.
It’s natural to want to explain your own point of view. And the best way to equip yourself to do that, is to understand the other person’s point of view.
You can listen respectfully and still disagree. You can understand completely and still not give in. And yet when you do listen, and when you do make the effort to understand, you improve the situation immensely.
When you win an argument, you have won nothing except the other person’s resentment. When you resolve the argument through genuine mutual understanding, even though you may continue to disagree you have earned respect and cooperation. That way, everyone wins something of real value.
Even disagreements can be a way to move positively forward, when you have the strength and the confidence to truly listen and understand.
“Come now , and let us reason together , saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool“. Isaiah 1:18