Bridging the Gap in Clashing Opinions
How should you deal with people you care about whose views differ from yours?
In my practice as a clinical psychologist, I have dealt with too many unfortunate situations in which this issue creates serious conflicts between husband and wife, parent and child, siblings, friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors. Yes, serious divisions exist, but you don’t want to lose important relationships over differences of opinions on matters such as politics. So, how can you bridge the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between people with opposing views?
A number of conflict resolution strategies can help you deal with this challenge. Taking such steps is critical to keeping marriages and friendships from being shaken or broken by the inability to tolerate disparate views.
I had to learn and use these strategies to preserve my relationship with two close friends whose political views are diametrically opposite mine. Over the years, we have maintained and even strengthened our relationship with dignity and mutual respect. We made a conscious decision that being right or imposing our views on each other was far less important than maintaining the warmth and integrity of our relationship.
So, how did we do this, and how can you replicate that success?
1. Prioritize relationships. We actually do not want to – and should not – put key relationships on the chopping block. Period. No matter how passionately we feel about our positions and how insane we feel the other side’s ideas are, our human connections matter most. For that reason alone, this discussion is worthwhile.
2. Find common ground.No matter how opposite the other person’s views are, you can find at least one thing to agree on if you focus on commonality, not on why your friend is wrong. Finding meeting places in the middle requires creativity and humility, but you can build bridges. Perhaps you both prioritize education or the environment or animal welfare, even though you have policy differences. Start with what you share.
3. Avoid black-and-white thinking. When we are emotionally charged, the right hemisphere of the brain become very activated, especially the limbic system, the brain’s emotional center. When this area is on high alert, most of the nervous system’s neurological energy rushes to the right brain to maintain the intensity of its activation. Unfortunately, in the process, the left hemisphere – the brain’s logical processing center – essentially shuts down. As a result, in emotionally charged situations, we can’t process complexities. We see only the black and white, the right and wrong, and not the gray in the middle, the common ground. Perhaps you can both agree that the situation may be more complex than your debate can encompass and cool down the argument’s intensity, as well as your limbic system.
4. Show respect. Find ways to acknowledge or validate the other person’s perspective. Besides being an effective conflict resolution strategy, this can defuse a disagreement’s intensity because it shows you’ve heard the other person – without having to agree with him or her. Just telling people you hear and respect them often can neutralize the heat of an argument and even strengthen the relationship.
5. Agree to disagree. Deciding mutually to avoid discussing hot topics in order to preserve the dignity and the stability of your relationship is often the best solution. More fragile or at-risk connections may need this strategy to survive. Sometimes, the area of disagreement is just not worth creating harsh feelings. Let them be them, while you be you.
6. Broaden your perspective. Most challenging (but most worthwhile to your personal growth), is working on broadening your viewpoint to incorporate other ideas. Rigidity and inflexibility are rarely effective in relationships. Being able to see something from another person’s viewpoint is a valuable relationship tool. It also actually improves your cognitive flexibility, which will make you more effective in every encounter with other people.
Making peace and keeping peace among family and friends is a core value. As we head into another election season, we need to consider what our real priorities are: maintaining the integrity of our most important relationships and fulfilling the need to come together for the common good.
Dr. Norman Goldwasser is a psychologist practicing in Miami Beach. With more than 30 years of experience, he specializes in treating trauma, narcissism, and family relationships. An expert in the use of EMDR, he is also the author of “Breaking the Mirror – Overcoming Narcissism: How to Conquer Self-Centeredness and Achieve Successful Relationships” and the upcoming “The Changeability Quotient: How Changeable Are You… and How Can You Improve Your Ability to Change?” For more information visit www.normangoldwasserphd.com.