Whether you believe in evolution or not, behavior among all creature shares similarity with one another. This is because only our physical form is different, our soul, emotions and feelings are all inter-related. Looking at the animal kingdom, we can observe that one of the reasons animals can attack is when they feel ‘threatened’. This perception of threat then dictates who is enemy and who is not, which environment is safe and which needs the animal to be on alert.
For humans, this perception of threat is also applicable but extends far and beyond which is influenced on by many levels by a multiple of factors. One of the threats that is applicable to humans is the ‘social threat’ perception which means that our importance, beliefs, opinions and views need to be valued.
”Egocentrics always have difficulty in handling differences of opinion”
Any situation which make humans feel that someone is belittling our opinions, ideas and views can make us go into the ‘attack’ mode because we need to look ‘right’ and anyone who takes on a role to prove us wrong can be viewed as a predator. This is one of the reasons why we see heated arguments and counter arguments, use of abusive words, personal attacks, ending up interactions or sometimes things go even further and farther.
”The moment you learn not to react to differences of opinion and choices is the moment you gain higher wisdom.”
So once we understand why people become so ‘defensive and hostile’, we can then start to develop skills in handling differences of opinions.
Talking about things in common, keeping a general wide point of view rather than pinpointing and highlighting the differences is a very safe way to discuss things. Remember ‘distance is safer’ and when things are discussed without touching so much on the differences, it lessens the other person to assume a defensive role.
People react more strongly and negatively when they feel:
They are judged and labelled: The use of judging behavior or words usually sets people on their defensive very easily and they assume ‘hostile’ position. It also prevents neutral, open minded conversation because the attention shifts away from the facts to more personal level and that too in a negative way. An easy way is to talk about the principles and hypothetical situations than the actual situations. Once they agree with you in principle, then you can discuss the real situation if you like.
Avoid showing or proving the other person as “wrong”, or “bad”. Avoid using strong, inflammatory words or labels, this just puts people on alert because of ‘social image threat’ and puts them on defensive and in turn, they feel the need to use even stronger word. Unfortunately this has the potential to turn into ‘personal attack’ and the point of discussion can be easily lost. Another way is to use ‘third person’ e.g. ‘If someone does this’ instead of ‘you did it’.
They are not being listened well: Take their opinion. A very safe way to prevent the discussion from turning to heated argument is asking the other person their opinions and experiences. This also deviates and diverts their attention away from the ‘social threat’ perception.
“We learn when we listen, if we only speak, then we are only repeating what we know”.
Use neutral and reassuring words to make the other person feel that you are listening to them. Words such as “interesting”, “it’s a unique way of looking at it” are neutral and can help dissipate the temperature of the conversation. Similarly, “I hear you”, “I see where you’re coming from”, “I understand what you’re saying” can be quite useful to offer reassurance to the other person and get their agree-ability.
They are being mocked and criticized: Around 93% of communication is said to be through our body language which includes our eye contact, facial expression, body posture and tone of voice. Words only convey 7% of what we want to say. So even if you use ‘nice gentle’ words but you are feeling threatened, the other person will respond according to the 93% message received by you. This is why using loud voice is a common aspect in the heated arguments. To avoid this from happening, interact in a way that the other person still feels respected. You can achieve more by staying positive than by becoming defensive or putting the other person on defensive. If you feel the heat of the situation, either change the topic because remember at the end of the day it is just a discussion which reflects our diverse experiences based on the way we have been brought up, the situations we have seen, the examples we have seen of people handling the difference of opinions, our education and our knowledge. The difficulties experienced by people in handling opinion differences is because of their ego. It has nothing to do with you.
They are losing arguments: Use ‘in my opinion’ and ‘I could be wrong as well’. This saves them from pulling out their claws to attack. This also reassures the other person that you are not making him or her feel small. A very safe way to talk about the facts is to provide a bit of authentic references to the facts that you are quoting but remember that even by referring to the references, other person may not agree and say that they don’t believe in the references. It is completely fine, they are not negating the references but trying to save their ‘social threat’ perception image.
They are being negated: Use ‘we’ and ‘us’ instead of ‘you’. Similarly talking about the possible ways to manage and resolve the situations also can lower the temperature of the argument.
At the end of the day, always remember that people’s opinions are a part of what they might be going through or had experienced, how they view things, what they have heard from someone else or a combination of multiple factors, it is not what should define them. Just look at the following visual illusion and try not to see grey dots on the borders of boxes. Even though there are no grey dots, yet the visual illusion tricks our eyes. It is always a good parable to consider that sometimes what people are saying appears “true” to them, therefore there is no point in trying to win an argument, win cooperation instead.
Written by Muhammad Wasif Haq (2016)
The page is a part of Cool Bluez