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Tips for Disagreeing Respectfully

I originally wrote this piece in 2011. Seems we could all use a little reminder from time to time. As you read, consider the polarities in play. If you practice integration, make a list and bring yourself into even greater WHOLENESS with disagreeing with respect.

These last couple of weeks, I’ve been hearing a theme in my work, “How do I disagree with my partner in a respectful way?”  A young couple I’m seeing in my practice has been going around with this one for a while.  I certainly remember being in the first years of my relationship with husband, David (going on thirty plus years now), we sure bumped up against the challenge of respectfully disagreeing.

It’s not uncommon when we disagree with someone to feel disrespected and not heard, misperceived or not understood.  We can all easily make the mistaken assumption that our loved one’s disagreeing, their having another point of view, means that they either don’t hear us or understand us — after all, if they really heard what we were saying, how on earth could they disagree!? — or that they are simply being disrespectful.

Disagreeing is neither.  Disagreeing simply means that the other person has a different perspective.  Sometimes, the only way David and I could find our way through an argument was to take a deep breath and say, “You know, you and I just aren’t the same.”  That can feel like a hard fall from the sweet space of falling in love. Others say, “the honeymoon’s over.”  Yes, and . . .

Learning to disagree and equally important, learning to accept that our sweet one doesn’t see life the same way we do is essential to fully respecting each other.  Cultivating the hard won appreciation that our beloved sees the world through their own eyes and not ours ultimately grants a kind of serenity you might feel after practicing a balance pose over and over and finally standing on one foot with complete equipoise.

Here are few tips to help you hold your balance when you are thrown off by disagreements:

  1. Listen, really listen.  Make sure you really hear what the other person is saying.  Listen for the content and the feelings beneath the content.  What are they feeling?  What need are they trying to express?  Reflect back what you hear to make sure you fully understand.  As much as possible, reflect your understanding with kind words and a kind open expression.  Sometimes, if you are still feeling charged up because you are not being heard, this kind of listening might be very very difficult.  If that’s the case, practice self control and/or take some time and clear the charge you are feeling so you can listen more carefully.

  2. Practice being courteous.  One of the qualities that gets lost in many relationships is simple courteousness.  Everyday, aim to treat “your people” with kind courtesy.  This might mean treating each other like guests in your home, it might mean doing tiny kindnesses for them.  In disagreements, this means sharing your point of view politely in a calm voice.  Again, if you are feeling too charged up, learning to clear the emotional energetic charge can really help you listen to your beloved and express your point of view with heartfelt respect.

  3. Ask if your disagreeing partner is ready and willing to hear your point of view.  Be ready to wait as they really and truly may not be in a place that they are ready to listen to you.  If they are ready and willing, share yourself.  Share your thoughts and the rationale behind what you think.  As best you can, share your needs and your feelings.  Don’t make them guess.  Remember, you do not need to abandon or sacrifice self respect to respect someone else.  Share from a position of truly sharing, not to try to convince or persuade, just to share.  Part of your sharing might include how hearing your partner has influenced your perspective.  Or perhaps has you listened, you could hear some truth in what your partner shared.  You might even have clarity about what need of yours is in play. What need is being met or not met by your perspective?

  4. Finally, remember that coming to agreement does not necessarily mean that you will 100% agree with each other and it doesn’t always mean compromising.  There are gradients of agreement.  And from my perspective, the value of learning to disagree with each other respectfully is coming back to the sweet spot of truly seeing and being seen by the one you love.  That’s the true aim of disagreeing respectfully.

I wonder how our world might look if we all learned to disagree respectfully and honored gradients of agreement.  What are your tips for disagreeing respectfully? For all you AAIT practitioners, what polarities do you see in play? Can you feel the tension between any unintegrated polarities?