In today’s society, everyone has an opinion, and unless you live in a hyper insulated community, you are bound to run into people who disagree with you. It might seem that because you disagree with someone, then you cannot have a valuable discussion or even mention your differences. Just because you might have a different opinion, does not mean that you cannot have a pleasant conversation or friendly debate. Here are some tips that I find (when I use them) helpful when discussing subjects with people who disagree with my opinions or views.
One of the hardest lessons I have learned in speaking with people who do not share my opinions or values, is letting them speak and be heard. More often than not, I would refuse to listen to their views and would completely disregard their opinions. However, when you let someone speak their own opinion it allows the tension (if any) to be dissolved when both parties feel they can express themselves without being attacked or vilified without being heard. Simply listening can help you better understand where someone is coming from, and it helps your case when you can at the very least say you heard the other person out.
2. Respectfully Disagree
Despite how you may inwardly feel, do not tell the other person their opinion is stupid or doesn’t matter. Just like you, the other person feels sure of and entitled to their opinion. You can state that you disagree, but do so in a respectful way that doesn’t insult the other person. Even if the person you are speaking to responds in a hostile manner to your differing opinion, you give yourself more credibility by remaining civil and refraining from making character assaults because someone doesn’t see the world as you do. The other person deserves respect and compassion and refusing to give that makes you both a hypocrite and a bad sport.
3. Remain Calm
Many times I have failed to heed this advice and I have always regretted it. No matter what the other person says, no matter how wrong you think they are, remain calm. This above all else is paramount to your ability to speak about things that some people might otherwise refrain from. Keep in mind that you are not your opinion, and your sense of self is not determined by you winning every discussion. You might in fact be wrong, and if you realize this the natural response is to become angry and double down on your beliefs, because your ego is absorbed in it now.
It’s more than just a discussion, it has become a defense of who you are. Or you might be feeling attacked by someone who is passionately disagreeing with you, and you mistake such passion for an assault on your self. If you lose your cool you could very easily ruin your friendship/relationship/reputation because you were unable to maintain your composure and acted out because of it. Keep in mind that no one controls you but yourself, and when someone attacks you or your opinions, you do not in fact have to respond in kind or rise to the bait. It’s okay to be passionate, but there is a difference between passion and anger.
4. Be Informed
If you intend to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with you, it helps to know the subject you are discussing. When I was younger, I often went into debates with people I disagreed with half cocked and uninformed. These “debates” always became shouting matches or long circular conversations that left me both frustrated and confused about why I felt so strongly towards an idea I did not in fact understand. If you approach discussions or debates with an informed opinion, you will not be sorry, nor can the other person credibly discount your opinions. Knowledge is power, and this is never more true than in a discussion of differences.
5. Know When to Walk Away
Some people don’t want to listen to what you have to say. These people are looking for a confrontation not a resolution. No matter what you say or how informed you are, it won’t matter. They will not hear you. These people are not worth engaging with, and when you come across such people, then it’s better to avoid these subjects altogether. If the person insists on arguing with you despite your refusal to do so, walk away. There is no shame in avoiding a pointless argument. Not one time have I ever regretted it when I decided to be the bigger person. It is a mark of maturity when you can assess a situation as causing more harm than good and deciding to remove yourself rather than get sucked into a useless argument. You may even keep friends you might have otherwise lost this way.
We live in a time of great diversity. Having different opinions is healthy and to be expected. There is no reason to avoid potentially heated issues if you are able to do so in a calm and informed manner. Just remember to be careful when entering the world of debate, very well lose a friend over a simple disagreement on politics, money or religion. Before taking your stand you might ask yourself if it’s worth it or even helpful. If it is, then proceed, just remain calm and carry on. Otherwise, walk away.