Disagree Without Fear!

“You can disagree with people and debate over their positions with issues without engaging in the politics of personal destruction.” – Hillary Clinton

Clinton, despite her quote above, and Trump have been indulging us with their “politics of personal destruction” for months now and their vitriolic attacks are usually reserved for divorce court, not a presidential campaign!

In this climate of politics, terrorism, racial divides, and even parenting differences, it seems like people are disagreeing over every issue under the sun. Whether it’s that Taylor Swift is a genius, that cops should wear body cameras, or that gluten is the true evil of the universe, everyone has an opinion – right or wrong.

For me, when I am in a disagreement with someone, I leverage their body language to give me clues as to how and where the discussion is going. Rolling eyes, a shrug, or a sly smirk lend valuable insight.

But, with social media, those subtle cues are absent and a political comment on Facebook can draw vocal opposition while a controversial Instagram photo can instantly offend.

I was overwhelmed last night when I found myself caught in a Facebook disagreement that quickly spiraled out of context. While I maintained a factual, respectful position, others became churlish and offensive, hurling ugly words.

It was clear that they were uninformed on the issue, so they relied on their emotional reaction to voice their disagreement. Thus, it was impossible to have a rational discussion, let alone a debate.

When my ex-wife and I tried mediation, we were too emotionally embroiled to rationally come to any amicable resolutions, so it unfortunately dragged out far longer than we anticipated, making it more difficult.

It’s disturbing when a disagreement goes from a reasonable dialogue to personal attacks. In the case of the Facebook disagreement, I could’ve just said, “oh you’re right, my bad!” and it would have been done. But giving in to irrational and emotionally reactive people isn’t doing ourselves any good. 

Ghandi once said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” While it’s true, rationality, respect, patience, and open-ears & mind are mandatory, from both sides, in order to move forward.

In my career, one challenge is providing clients exactly what they ask for, only to have them disagree with my decisions. “I don’t think the red is working” or “I feel like my eye goes to the main character to quickly.” 

Though they’re paying for it, I’m hired to apply my expertise and skill to make the project work. So, instead of stomping and demanding, “But red is there to offset the green, you idiot!” or “Are you crazy – the main character’s exactly where your eye should go!” I approach their disagreement and keep these points in mind, so the project gets done above the client’s expectations:

• Avoid Opinions: Words like, “think,” “believe,” or “feel” bring emotions or an uninformed hypothesis into the discussion, avoiding important facts. It’s wise to keep opinions to a minimum, if at all.

• Just the Facts, Ma’am: Facts act like nails in a crate, securing a position over an opinion. “Sales records show we sold 800 donuts today,” vs, “I think/believe/feel we sold a lot more than 800 donuts!”

• Objective vs. Subjective: It’s okay to disagree, but making it personal gets everyone feeling badly. It’s vital to remember who we’re talking to – family, friend, co-worker, stranger on the internet – and that they’re a person with feelings and opinions. Rage & ugly language ends rational dialogue. Courtesy, respect, and professionalism always move a disagreement toward common ground.

• You Can’t Be It Back: We tell kids that name-calling isn’t nice, yet we sling nasty names in all kinds of debates. I’m often hurling insults at drivers who, luckily, can’t hear me. Name-calling serves only to taunt and exacerbate a declining dialogue. And no, you can’t take back calling someone a turd monkey!

A friend was on a movie forum and got into a disagreement. He wrote that another member was ‘dangerous and should be on meds,’ as a joke. The next day, the forum banned him. His internet provider called about a complaint  against him. He apologized and it was resolved. Still, his comments remain out there, today.

• Open Mind, Open Heart: Because we’re all so staunch in our positions, it’s easy to forget that we’re all just humans and have feelings. Keeping an open mind to other’s ideas and falling back on an open heart when things get heavy, can often calm us and reset us back in a place where we can find composure.

• Keep It Light: A good sense of humor is a great way to relieve tensions and hostility in any debate. Diffusing an offensive reaction by making it funny takes effort, but can bring an entire discussion out of the fire and back to the table. “You are so stupid!” can be humorously offset by, “yes, but still I’m prettier than you!” Laughter ensues.

• I’m Not Sarcastic, I’m Just Right: Sarcasm can be similar to humor, but in strong doses, it can also work against a disagreement, much like offensive, entitled, righteous, preachy, lecturing, assumptive, or egregious words. 

• Trading Places: It’s easy to use the other person’s position to make a point, “You always buy the same pudding and never let me choose!” Trading places and presenting our own perspective, as it relates to their position, can be great to open a more approachable dialogue, “I’d prefer to try a new pudding and would appreciate if I could choose this time.” Direct, amicable and able to be better received and processed. 

• Do You Hear What I Hear: I used to work with a man who was always on his Blackberry during creative meetings. It never bothered me, except when he’d come to my office, later, and ask me questions on projects that we had just gone over. Listening is paramount in getting correct information, in any scenario. I’m a notorious doodler in meetings, but if you look at my “doodles,” they are actually very detailed and organized notes that ignore the idle chit-chat of a meeting and bullet point the vital information I need. 

In social media, texts, and email, reading only a subject or just the first line, skipping to the last, is much the same as not listening. For me, I’ll often copy the text from a long email and paste it into a blank document where I can itemize info, delete extraneous blather, and organize what needs to be addressed.

Ever disagree with someone who talks right over you? It’s annoying not completing our thoughts. I learned to avoid doing it, and instead, commit to being a more patient listener, catching crucial details, not fishing for them. 

• Expect Respect: As a teacher at a local children’s center, I had one rule in the classroom, which I made into a sign and hung above the door. Expect Respect. It is something I truly believe and passed on to the kids, “As much as I expect you to respect me, it’s important that you expect me to respect you, too!” I was surprised how such a simple phrase could affect the kid’s perspectives, once it was explained that respect is a two-way street. I referred to that sign many times as an aid when conflict arose in the class, and because they knew of it, they were disarmed by it. I hope some of those kids took that lesson with them into their lives.

So, something we can all agree on is that disagreements can be exhausting and often fruitless. Whether at work, home, in traffic, out shopping, or online, disagreements emerge from nowhere and can escalate into arguments, and possibly physical confrontations, really fast. My thoughts above on how to disagree with others without fear will come in handy for you – and if you disagree, well, then I’m still prettier than you! 

Love & Cheers! 

Debate in Yellow ©2015