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In today’s society we are surrounded by people from different nationalities, upbringings, values, religions, political affiliations and personal preferences.  Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge, says that if we are honest with ourselves our ideas and opinions come more from the tribe we identify with than the facts presented to us, and this in itself is what can cause many a heated argument. 

Humility is the most potent antidote to conflict.  Often our views have not been reasoned through and by understanding this we can approach conflict situations with patience rather than judgement. 

Vermaak provides the following five tips on how to have a civil argument:

Firstly, decide if you really want to have the discussion and feel strongly enough about the topic to argue about it.  If not, tell the individual that you would rather not discuss the topic as you have a difference of opinion and that you would rather use your time together to speak about topics that you both enjoy.  If this person is someone you have encounters with often you will need to remind them of these boundaries should they overstep them at any point. 

“If the topic is one that you would like to pursue with the individual, the good news is that it is possible to influence others, even those with the most stubborn opinions,” says Vermaak.  

  • The first step is to agree on ground rules for the conversation.  State that your goal is not to be offensive but rather to understand the other person’s point of view.  For you to do this you will need to ask them a number of questions about their views and beliefs.  The individual then needs to offer you the same opportunity and you must hear one another out.  Clearly explain that by asking questions each of you will be able to understand one another’s views.  On agreement of the ground rules it is important not to criticise or attack one another, and to remember and enforce these rules.
  • Get curious. Suspend judgment and rather frame your thoughts with: “Why would a reasonable, rational and decent human being think this way?” Most of the time, you will find an answer that confirms the premise. You won’t necessarily agree. You may not agree with their logic. You may see flaws in their choice of data. But when all is said and done, you’re likely to have a feeling of respect for how the life experiences, resources, associations, values, etc. of the other person brought them to think the way they do. And you’ll be the richer for it. Even if you end the conversation not agreeing, you are likely to feel respected.
  • Validate values. Along the way, you are likely to discover that your differences are differences of strategy more than purpose. You’ll discover that where you are trying to achieve safety, the other person values freedom. Where you value personal responsibility, they value compassion. When they pound the table for opportunity, you’ll raise your voice for equality. But if you listen carefully, you’ll discover you bothcare about both values. You simply differ in how to achieve them, or in what order. When you notice this similarity, call it out. It will improve the conversation outcome.
  • Share your truth not the truth. Finally, remember humility. Remember that your views most likely have inconsistencies, suspect data and tribal loyalty as well. Use statements like “I believe” or “I’ve concluded” rather than “The fact is” or “As everyone knows.”
The Human Edge