If the last two years has done anything, it’s shone a light on the way we engage and communicate when it comes to the big issues.
From marriage equality to women’s rights, systemic racism and now the impending US election—the adrenalized culture and political landscape we’ve found ourselves in has forced us to have those tough conversations with our friends and family—and even re-evaluate those relationships.
From awkward arguments amongst friends to opposing fundamental belief systems, the conversations happening across dinner tables the world over have never been more emotionally charged.
Thankfully, they don’t all have to end in bouts of frustrated tears.
While there’s no iron-clad rule that says we all have to get along, being able to share opposing views or differing opinions shouldn’t feel like a relationship deal-breaker. Here’s how to have those tough chats while remaining as conflict-free as possible.
Listen. No, really listen.
If you find yourself in an awkward conversation with your nearest and dearest, take the time to really understand what they’re saying and assume they inherently mean well.
“Ask them about their intentions,” says relationship counsellor and psychotherapist, Lisa Fleming. “People generally tend to make sense when we try to understand how they came to their opinions in the first place.”
Lisa suggests putting yourself in their shoes and reflecting on the thought processes or feelings you might have had if you’d come from the same background as the person in question.
Is their life situation different from your own?
Consider all factors including religion, class, gender, education, family, opportunities, financial situations and even inter-generational trauma such as war, mental illness or displacement from their home countries.
OK, it might not be like you’re walking into a Montague vs Capulet type situation but having the foresight and understanding to know these conversations might be tough can help you mentally prepare for any discomfort.
Instead of looking at these instances as a negative, try thinking of these chats in a positive way and as an opportunity to get to better know each other.
Most importantly, be aware that it’s not your job to try and change someone. Each person has a right to their own opinions and if you strongly disagree with these, it’s also your right to walk away.
Don’t take it personally
“As humans, we tend to form groups and alliances quickly,” says Lisa. What’s important to remember however is that we don’t all come from the same place, and while conflict can be difficult, we need to acknowledge that people can get triggered by different things.
“Typically, when someone appears to be taking something very personally it’s usually got something to do with their own history and sensitivity,” explains Lisa.
“Even if you can’t tell what that is in the heat of the moment and you don’t understand it, it’s important to inherently remember that whatever is going on might not be related to you or what’s actually happening in the heat of the moment.”
Consider the future
If you really find the discussion heating up and you’re unsure of the next steps, consider what you ultimately want from the relationship at hand.
Do you actually want to smooth things over? Or are your disagreements too large to ignore?
“It all depends on the level of the relationship you have with the person,” Lisa says. “If you can accept that you disagree but ultimately mean well and can tolerate those differences, then you can agree to disagree without moral judgment.”
However, if the person in question reveals themselves to be the kind of person you don’t actually want to associate with, or makes you feel like you’re betraying your own belief system, it will be much more difficult to remain friends in the long term.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that most relationships and friendships have their ups and downs and the occasional unsolvable problem – but these can be dealt with through ongoing communication, acceptance and openness with one another.
Looking for another read from COTW? Nothing will knee-jerk you into self-analysis faster than this arresting and beautifully worded piece from James Ryan about honesty (and recovery from opiates).