Don’t Unfriend Me Just Yet!
I watched as my friend worriedly texted her adult children. She was reminding them that there were topics at their upcoming family dinner that were “off-limits,” because the conversation would inevitably not have gone well between various family members. We awkwardly giggled together at the reality that it is sometimes easier to avoid certain topics of conversation, especially these days, than it is to hit them head-on. What has become a harsh reality in this time of political and racial unrest, is that friends and families are divided and find themselves unable to even have civil dialogue surrounding these topics. It is easier to simply demand that you “unfriend me right now if you don’t agree!” than it is to engage in starting conversations that could lead to healing on both sides.
As a speech pathologist, I have spent most of my life trying to help people communicate effectively with one another. But while I can help you with articulation, fluency, voice and language difficulties, I am no expert in relationships and convincing people that we need to show love and understanding to one another – even when we strongly disagree. I have reached out to a couple of friends – one who is a counselor and one who is just gifted at bringing out the best in people – and have compiled some suggestions for having those difficult dialogues within our circles of friends and family. Hopefully you can glean some helpful strategies for the challenging conversations that are critical if we are to move forward together in spite of differences of opinion.
- Start a conversation with “I value your thoughts and wanted to understand why you….” And try to keep in mind that it is okay to disagree; we don’t have to change the other person’s mind.
- Together, make a visual list of the thoughts where we actually agree on the topic at hand. Many times we find out that we have a lot more in common from a base belief system, than we think we do.
- “It’s good to have a family meeting in which everyone can have an allotted amount of time to talk (an egg timer is good). Everyone has a right to express their own opinions and family members have a rule to stay respectful. The intent is to express views in a loving environment. Families typically develop a code word to use if things get too heavy or overwhelming. When the code word is called, all parties must drop the conversation and take a break.
- A communication journal is helpful, as families can write individual views and messages to each other without verbal communication. Family members will put the journal on top of the refrigerator and check the journal periodically for messages. Sometimes, non-verbal communication can help all involved to see another perspective. The rules are: no negativity or berating one another, no attacks or put downs.
Both ladies reiterated the fact that none of us are operating at our very best right now. If you add to that all of our emotions – not feeling heard and feeling out of control; it can lead to outbursts. It has to be our choice to love one another even though we may not agree. “The divide is what keeps us weak; it keeps us apart,” said Michelle.
The authors of the book, I Think You’re Wrong, (But I’m Listening) remind us to “remember that agreeing on matters of politics should always be lower on the priority list than maintaining a healthy, caring relationship.” One of my favorite quotes from them:
“It’s not necessary for someone to give grace to receive it.
It’s not necessary for the other person to be totally openhearted and patient and willing,
especially with family members,
for you to be openhearted and patient and willing to give all the curiosity and grace in the world.”
The next time you find yourself approaching a tough conversation amongst your family and friends – remember to value what they are saying and the feelings that they may have behind their words. May we all give grace to one another in the uncertainty that lies ahead!
Book cited: I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations
By Sarah Stewart Holland, Beth A. Silvers. Thomas-Nelson; 2020.
Photo Credit: Aaron Blanco Tejedor- UnSplash