photo by Brian Wangenheim
by Andrea Blundell
We are living through difficult and uncertain times. And this can mean we are all more sensitive than usual. How can you make sure a difference of opinion doesn’t ruin the friendships you’ve spent years nurturing?
How to have a difference of opinion and stay friends
It comes down to remembering what truly matters, and using the key elements of effective listening and communicating.
1. Focus on shared goals, not different ideas.
A difference of opinion often hides a shared goal. For example, two friends are locked into an endless dispute about vaccination passports. The shared goal is actually a society that works and feels safe. It’s just that while one friend worries about health safety, the other worries about safety from civil unrest.
Finding shared goals lead to openness and informed debate, whereas focussing on differences leads to closed mindedness and disputes.
2. Clarify your ideas.
We think we know our viewpoint and what we are going to say, and then we start debating with a friend. And our viewpoint changes slightly, and then a bit more. Suddenly we are saying things we hadn’t thought through at all.
Afterwards, particularly if the discussion became heated, we daren’t admit that perhaps our viewpoint is not as extreme as we made it seem.
We can even convince ourselves we now believe that more extreme take, when it was never what we originally felt at all. It’s an easy way to drift further and further away from not just the friend, but ourselves.
It can help to write down your ideas on paper.
- Is this really what you believe?
- Where did you actually learn these ideas?
- Are they true, or based on assumptions?
- What things might you need to do some research around?
3. Learn to see different perspectives.
Think of a statue of an elephant. The person standing looking at the trunk will never agree with what an elephant looks like if communicating with the person standing at the tail.
It’s only if they both walk around the statue and see the entire thing that they can both learn about the totality of the elephant, and start to come to any sort of agreement.
photo by Brad Neathery
Always take the time to ‘see the entire elephant’, all possible perspectives, before dismissing other people.
4. Practise good listening.
Always carefully planning your next argument as the person speaks, and waiting to jump in?
When we half listen like this, we miss information that could be a window into understanding. And we barge forward even if we didn’t actually fully understand what the other person said. [Learn how to be a great listener here].
“It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.” psychologist Carl Rogers, in his famous book a Way of Being.
5. Be honest if you don’t understand.
How many friendships and relationships could be saved if we reflected back each phrase before assuming and getting defensive? If we admitted we didn’t get it, and asked for explanation? Before letting a small misunderstanding lead to a huge division?
If you aren’t sure what the other person means, reflect back and ask for clarification. And if you don’t feel they understood you, let them know you aren’t sure you are explaining clearly, then ask for their version of what you said to double check.
6. Remember that it’s okay to get it wrong or change your mind.
Despite all our efforts, none of us are computers. We don’t know everything. And sometimes we learn new things and need to change our mind.
Find admitting you were wrong really hard? Instead of getting defensive and pushing away your friend, take a time out to do some soul searching about yourself and own issues.
When over 4,000 participants took a self-esteem test, the results showed that those who hated to admit they had made a mistake suffered from fear of rejection and low confidence. 51% of those who hated to admit they were wrong, for example, reported secretly feeling they were a failure in life.
7. Recognise if you are falling into black and white thinking.
photo by Christina Wocintechchat
There are many sides to every story and situation. Life tends to be shades of grey, not black and white.
If you are thinking there are only two solutions, then you have fallen into black and white thinking.
- What might you be missing here?
- What if both you and your friend are incorrect and there is another solution neither of you knows?
- In ten years time, will this situation really be as simplifed as you are now making it?
When disagreeing means it’s time to let go
Feel like with this certain person, all you have is conflict? It is of course possible to outgrow friendships. This is particularly the case if a friendship is not based on shared values, but on flimsier reasons, like working together, going to the same school, liking the same music, or liking a night out on the town.
Personal values are the rockbed of real friendships. They are the things that deeply matter to us when all else falls away, and regardless of the opinions of those around us. They look like valuing fairness, freedom, honesty, and kindness.
- Do you and this other person, despite all recent conflict, share values?
- In ten years, when this current situation is long in the past, would you regret not still being friends?
- Is your current disagreement a difference of opinion, or a sign that this friendship has run its course?
Constantly fighting with those around you? Need help with relating? We connect you with highly regarded and expert London talk therapists. Or use our booking platform to find registered therapists across the UK and affordable online talk therapists.
Still have a question about how to have a healthy difference of opinion? Post below.
Andrea Blundell is the lead writer of this site. With training in counselling and coaching, she has long been an advocate of communication skills and positive conflict.