February 6, 2015
I stared blankly at her across the table, my ears hearing what she was saying, but my mind racing a hundred different directions. How could we look at the same situation, but see it so differently? I really, really wanted her to see my side – to agree that my insights were correct and that the way I see the issue is the way it actually is.
But it wasn’t working.
She became more animated, waving her hands around, and emphasizing certain words that drove her points. I could tell that as much as I wanted her to come around to my way of thinking, she also was trying to get me to do the same. We simply were not going to agree. Probably not ever.
So what do you do? What happens when you simply can’t agree?
Usually we talk about the issue or situation over and over and over, thinking that surely if enough reasons are stated well the other party will be enlightened and come around. Or, we dive into heated, and often hurtful conflict, justifying the hurling of reckless and hurtful words. Or, we retreat, and freeze people out. If they won’t think like us, then there is a temptation to alienate and punish for not conforming.
Unfortunately, the mishandling of conflict has broken up homes, separated churches, splintered friendships, and divided schools. It has imploded organizations and sucked the life out of work places.
Because we often don’t know how to stand up for what we believe is right, and not alienate others in the process.
But we’ve got to learn how to disagree well, because people are more important than issues. The well-being of our hearts depend on it.
Even in the midst of heated, and complex subjects, there are some attitudes that will help maintain relationships. These do not mean that a separation won’t occur. It may be that an issue is important enough that both parties need to part ways for one reason or another.
But let’s consider how we can do that with grace – in a way that doesn’t alienate, divide, and condemn.
Here are 5 ways to disagree honorably:
- Put on Love First.
There is a mysterious power in love. Like a heavy rain, it covers and fills in gaps. We are able to truly hear people and have compassion if we feel loved. Years ago a friend approached me with a problem. She looked at me and said, “it’s so hard to be mad at you because you are so loving to me!” Even when we disagree, when we come with an attitude of love, relationships can be maintained.
“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it.
Love makes up for practically anything.”
1 Peter 4:8
- Embrace Diversity of Thought.
One of the great blessings of life is diversity. When I look at my garden in the summer, I am so thankful for the varied types of vegetables and the many colors that make it stunningly beautiful. Each compliments the others. Or when I travel, I marvel at the variety in customs, traditions, and norms in other cultures, so different from our own.
Differences are a truly a gift. They are the spice of life in many ways. Yet, when it comes to differences on issues we deem important, it can be difficult to embrace them in the same way.
It may help to remember that diversity plays an important role, even when we don’t come to the same conclusion. We learn to see issues from different perspectives, and it sharpens our thinking and processes. While we may not agree, we can appreciate another’s thoughts.
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body.
So it is with the body of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12
- Listen Well.
Whether a two year old, a teenager, or an adult, all people feel valued when they feel they’ve been heard. When we sincerely listen to others in order to understand their perspective, we offer a gift of great value. This is different than listening to form rebuttals or arguments. An active listener listens to understand, and pays attention to what the other is saying. We don’t have to agree on an issue to be a good listener, we just to need to have a heart humble enough to hear another’s perspective.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 19:19
- Choose words wisely.
The tongue is one of the most powerful weapons we have – for good or for evil. When I feel strongly about an issue, it is so difficult to hold back those words that want to fly out of my mouth, even though I know they shouldn’t. My self-control walks right out the door when emotions run high. In these moments, it is more important than ever to watch what we say. Pause before speaking. Weigh how a phrase may be interpreted. And remember that you may regret what you say, but you won’t regret what you don’t say in anger.
“The tongue is a fire…” James 3:6
- Extend Grace.
No matter what side of an issue we stand, we can all use a whole lot of grace for the journey. What is grace? While I could tell you the definition out of a book, I find it to be something bigger than words. It’s a gift we receive, or we watch others extend. We know grace when we see it, and it’s rare and beautiful act.
When I feel my heart becoming hard towards someone over an action or stance that hurts me, I intentionally will do or say something kind toward him or her. In it’s essense, it’s an act of grace. I’ve been shown so much grace in my life by a loving God, that I have no choice other than to demonstrate that to others, even when we disagree over something important.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Matt. 5:7
Conflict is a part of life. We will offend people. We will see issues differently. We will find ourselves disagreeing verbally over important subjects. In these moments, let’s consider how we can disagree and still honor and respect the other person.
How do you disagree well?