When We Disagree: Navigating Confrontational Conversations
Have you ever been in a conversation and quickly realized the person you were talking to had a completely different stance on an issue than you? Did you bring up what you believe or just silently agreed and hoped the conversation would end soon?
These situations can be awkward and stressful, and bring up questions such as: Is it okay to disagree with a boss? Will my coworkers like me even if I do not agree with them? How important is it to share what I really think? Especially in 2020, when there are so many events and issues to have an opinion on, we are bound to disagree at some point. When that time comes, what should we do?
Here are some tips and tricks for navigating these conversations:
Approach the conversation with kindness
This year has been unlike any other, not only with a pandemic, but also a controversial election. No matter how great someone may appear to be doing, it is likely that some aspect of 2020 has been really difficult and that may come out in the form of strong opinions. Even if the conversation is a train wreck, try to give yourself and everyone else a little grace.
What is the other person looking for?
If you are having a conversation with a boss, coworker, or peer and a controversial topic comes up, pay attention to what their intentions are. Did they bring it up to vent, to hear your opinion or maybe get your reaction? If they just want to vent, lend an ear and discern whether it is necessary to share what you think. If they know you disagree and are just trying to get a reaction from you, try not to take the bait and stay calm and rational while you explain your side. If you feel you should speak up, do it! If you feel bringing up your side will not be constructive at the time, wait for another time to discuss.
Look for common ground
People are more similar than they are different, and most opinions are formed out of concern for one’s health and safety. No matter what you believe politically or about the pandemic, chances are you want you and your family safe and healthy like everyone else. Look for ways you are similar in your values, and you will likely find something you agree on.
You can redirect the conversation
If you really do not want to debate an issue, remember you have the power to change the subject. Say you are talking to a Hokie alum and they bring up their thoughts on the election you completely disagree with and do not feel would be helpful to argue. Try to change the subject based on the common ground you do have, like how Tech’s campus is the best in the state or how we should have won the Wake Forest football game this season.
Discuss why your beliefs are personal to you
When you bring up your side and why you might disagree, don’t forget to mention the why. This helps to deepen the conversation past just social or political issues, and can help establish common ground. For example, say you are talking to a coworker about masks and your coworker does not think they are super important and you disagree. Instead of simply saying, “You are wrong; masks are important,” try something like “I believe masks are important because I have a close friend who is immunocompromised and I want to do all I can to make sure she feels safe.” Even if your coworker keeps their original stance, they will likely understand and respect your reasoning.
Disagreement is not the enemy
To work well together, you don’t need to agree on everything. Disagreement does not mean you can't be friends with someone or have a good relationship with your boss. If you disagree on a value fundamental in your life that will directly affect your job, aim to have more conversations with that person about what you disagree on. You both may learn a lot about the other person and side of the issue. The common ground is there, it might just take some time to find.
It's not okay to feel endangered by someone’s opinions
There is a line between disagreeing on a political or social issue, and feeling attacked because of what you believe. If your coworker or boss belittles you for your beliefs or acts in a racist or sexist manner, do not be afraid to reach out to someone else in the company. Be upfront that their words are threatening and inappropriate to you. While everyone deserves to have their own opinions, no one deserves to feel unsafe.
Every situation is different and can depend a lot on how comfortable you are with confrontation. Remember your beliefs and life experiences are valid whether you share them or not. We are all doing our best to make the right decisions for our own lives, in our communities, and in our country. Staying informed and involved is not easy but it is worth the challenges, so I encourage you to respectfully use your voice when the opportunity arises.
By: Grace Farmelo