Coming Home for Holidays? How to Handle Disagreements & Find Common Ground.

By Tina Popadak

Christmas preparation is in full swing, and we all know what to expect.

Whether you are in the middle of a hunt for original Christmas presents or finally being on time this year, you can’t wait for one thing.

The Christmas magic.

It is the same every year and yet always so unique and anticipated: seeing your family or friends, watching holiday movies, plenty of delicious food, an endless supply of cookies, and, if you and your loved ones have different political views, also some arguments.

Aaand the Christmas magic is gone. 

. . .

Especially in the current climate of issues that the world is facing, we feel that everywhere are disagreements and it is affecting our family relations as well. From panelists on TV screaming at each other, to the Facebook community exchanging their polarized opinions, politicians and leaders and the list go on. We live in a world, where everyone has an opinion, and does not listen to each other, or even yell at each other, many of us are so sick or scared to get into an argument that we’re willing not to engage at all.

Contempt has replaced conversation.

. . .

While neither is ideal, arguing or keeping quiet, there are a few things you can contemplate ahead of time to feel more prepared if such a situation should occur, especially during Christmas time.

Turning on the expert, Julia Dhar, who offers three techniques to reshape the way we talk to each other so we can start disagreeing productively and finding common ground – over family dinners this time of the year but also in the upcoming year whether during work meetings and in our national conversations.

1. Set Common Ground

Prepare yourself first by acknowledging that you and your family or friends have differing views. Maybe you all decide not to discuss politics and sensitive subjects or maybe you set a limit to end discussion when things go too heated. But if you want to give try to exchange differing views and engage in debate, start by finding a common ground. Julia Dhar explains:

1.”People who disagree the most productively start by finding common ground, no matter how narrow it is.”

2.”They identify the thing that we can all agree on and go from there: the right to an education, equality between all people, the importance of safer communities.”

3.”What they’re doing is inviting us into what psychologists call shared reality. And the shared reality is the antidote to alternative facts.”

2. The conflict is still there. That’s why it is a debate.

What is debate? It is when we engage with differing or conflicting ideas, respectfully, directly, and face-to-face. The foundation of debate is rejection. The idea is that you make an argument and I provide a response, and you respond to my response. Without rebuttal, it’s not debate, it’s just preaching.

Finding a common ground or shared reality gives us a platform to start talking about it. Julie continues:

1.”The trick of debate is that you end up doing it directly, face to face, across the table.

2. Listening to someone’s voice as they make a controversial argument is literally humanizing.

3. Separate ideas from the identity of the person discussing them.

Attacking the identity of the person making the argument is irrelevant because they didn’t choose it. Your only winning strategy is to engage with the best, clearest, least personal version of the idea. And then, the thing that debate allows us to do as human beings are open ourselves, really open ourselves up to the possibility that we might be wrong. The humility of uncertainty.”

3. Detach your identity from your idea.

When we become attached to our ideas it is so hard to disagree productively. Because when we start to believe that we own them and then by extension our ideas own us. Julie explains: “if you debate long enough, you will switch sides, you’ll argue for and against the expansion of the welfare state. For and against compulsory voting. And that exercise flips a kind of cognitive switch.” Then the suspicions that you hold about people who stand for beliefs that you don’t have, start to evaporate.

1.Imagine yourself stepping into their shoes.

2.When you step into their shoes, you’re embracing the humility of uncertainty –  the possibility of being wrong.

3.By embracing “ intellectual humility”, we are more capable of listening to a broad range of arguments, being more objective, and becoming less defensive when confronted with differing opinions.

We should be asking each other, all of us, a question.

When we embrace that humility of uncertainty, we are pre-committed to the possibility of being wrong.  It’s all about the attitude and giving space to ask ourselves and each other ” what would it take to change your mind?”

Once you start thinking about what it would take to change your mind, you start to wonder why you were quite so sure about your opinion in the first place. The moment we embrace the possibility of being wrong, it empowers us to stop talking and start listening. To stop shutting down and to start opening our minds.