How to Disagree with a Loved One

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How to Disagree with a Loved One

By Jonathan Miller


I recently had a conversation with my dad about politics. We do not agree on politics. Yet somehow, we never yelled at each other or shut down

How do you disagree with someone you love and still keep your head?

We all have beliefs that we hold close to our hearts. When those beliefs—no matter what they are—are challenged, it is easy to get ready for a fight. It is easy for insults to fly, vocal volumes to escalate, and heart pressures to go up…

Is this how you react when your beliefs are challenged?

If you answered yes, then you are human. We have ALL been there at some point, including my dad and me.

However, on this occasion when my dad and I talked about politics, the conversation didn’t lead to anger, frustration and yelling.

Here are three tips I learned from that conversation on how to have a real, respectful conversation with people when you disagree.

1. Relax

It may feel like the fate of the world is balanced on the outcome of your conversation, but let me reassure you, it isn’t.

So many times, when someone disagrees with me, my mental-reflexes arm themselves immediately. My mind readies itself to defend my beliefs, as if the outcome of the conversation will ruin the world as I know it.

If I take a step back, I realize this impending, end-of-the-world outcome is just a big emotional lie.

I am not wrong! I making the rational argument here! They’re the ones who are wrong!

I am not saying you are wrong. I am not even saying you have to pretend you are wrong. Nope! What I am saying is you’ll feel better, and they’ll feel better, if you can relax.

R. e. l. a. x.

Deep breath in…

Deep breath out…

The world is not at stake.

Don’t tell me what’s at stake, Jon!

Ok, there is a slim chance that Batman is reading this post, and the world’s fate does hang on the balance of his next conversation… Even so, he’d be a lot more effective in that conversation if he was able to relax.

When my dad and I talked, I felt only peace. My muscles were relaxed, and I don’t remember feeling anxious at all. Anger, frustration, and contempt couldn’t offer anything of value to our conversation. Peace, patience, and understanding on the other hand, had so much to offer.

Next time you are having a conversation, or see a post on Facebook, and feel your tension rising in response, catch yourself. Pause. Breath. Relax. Then continue.

The Bible offers this same wisdom in Proverbs 14

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
(Proverbs: 14:29)

Somehow, despite this, Christians, like me, can be some of the quickest people to anger. This couldn’t be further from God’s intention. God values understanding over anger.

If you can’t feel relaxed during a conversation yet, that’s OK. It takes practice. Sometimes what you need is to take a step back from the conversation until you can calm down.

2. Be Curious

Curiosity killed the cat!

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this phrase growing up. Well-meaning adults told me this axiom over and over again in attempts to protect me from my own insatiable curiosity. I pushed every button, pulled every lever, felt every texture, smelled every scent, and sometimes it got me into serious trouble.

But does curiosity always kill the cat? Is this a law of the natural universe?

When it comes to interacting with other people, quite the opposite is true.

When my dad and I talked in the car, I felt like he was genuinely interested in what I believed, even though I knew for certain that it was not what he believes. This not only made me feel like a valuable human being, it also made me way more open to hearing what he had to say as well.

If irritation and contempt are poisons to civil conversations, curiosity is the antidote. Curiosity can restore broken relationships and help guide stimulating conversations with people when you disagree.

This is can also be called humility. The Bible tells Christians,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
(Philippians 2:3-4)

How am I supposed to be curious and humble when I already know they are wrong?

Author of the famed Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis said,

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

You don’t have to admit defeat. You don’t have to say your beliefs are wrong. Rather, before thinking about your beliefs at all, seek to understand them first. Be curious.

Seek to understand why they believe what they believe.

They have real reasons for believing what they believe. Those reasons matter just as much as your reasons even if their conclusion is wrong.

Ask questions first, and then ask more questions. Be curious.

Follow-up questions are powerful in these circumstances. Here are some examples of good follow-up questions:

It sounds like you have quite a history with…?

Wow, it seems like you are really passionate about…?

Did you say your mom taught you…? Tell me more about her.

3. Listen

One the biggest gifts my dad gave me during our long conversation in the car, was his ear. He listened to my perspective and asked follow-up questions. I felt heard.

Try to tell someone in a heated argument with you to relax and see what happens... I’m going to bet they don’t respond well. In contrast, make someone feel heard and watch how they relax without you having to say a word.

When a person feels heard, they become disarmed. They begin to be open to hearing a different perspective.

That’s why the Bible tells Christians,

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
(James 1:19)

Noticing a theme? The Bible is constantly telling its readers to speak less, listen more, and to not let anger control them. Nonetheless, Christians are imperfect people, and we have gained ourselves a bad reputation for being slow to listen, quick to speak, and even quicker to anger.

Next time you are having a conversation, try your best not to formulate a response until you are asked. Take all of the energy you would normally be spending creating a response, and transfer that energy into listening to the person in front of you and thinking of follow-up questions.

And remember to relax. That urgency you feel to counter them is an emotional response and you have the power to ignore it. Take a breath and listen. You’ll be surprised by the humanity of the person you are talking to. You’ll also be surprised by their deep interest to hear your perspective after they have felt heard.