How to Respect People You Disagree With

Posted on: January 14th, 2020 in mindset by Pat Mesiti | No Comments

2020 has only just begun, but it has been a very rough start. Much of my country, Australia, has burnt. Regardless of whether or not you are directly affected by the crisis, it has caused every Australian, emotional pain. It has been devastating, but what has made it even worse is that there is such political division in this country about how to respond to the fires. I am not going to get into the politics, but I will acknowledge that differing views about climate change are even creating division in families, and that is incredibly sad. 

Maybe people living in the USA are more familiar with dealing with divisive issues. Some people are passionately for President Trump and some are passionately against. Also the gun debate in America has firmly divided the nation, but up until now there have been few issues that created such division as climate change in Australia, and now here we have huge tracks of smouldering land and a community that is both hurting and divided. What I want to write about today is how to respect (even care) for people you disagree with. I think in the current climate that is a lesson we all need to learn.

Don’t think people have bad motives

You might believe that someone’s ideas are dumb, even dangerous, but you cannot then dismiss that person as bad and motivated by ill intent. The moment you do that you create a wedge, you cut yourself off. You need to remember that this is a person with a lifetime of experiences and that has shaped their views. You don’t know what has happened to them, or where they have been. You need to remember first and foremost that they are a person, a human, with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, friends and family. Treat people who disagree with you with respect.

Do you really need to go there?

Before getting into an argument about climate change or gun control or President Trump ask yourself what the point is. Are you going to change this person’s views and influence how they see the world, or are you just going to antagonise them and upset yourself? What is the point of discussing divisive issues? Could you not instead talk about what unites you rather than what divides you? Can’t you talk about people you both care about? Personal goals? Your holidays? Remember that people who take a great interest in politics usually do so because they care about the world and people. Maybe you don’t agree with them, but keep reminding yourself that they have got involved with an issue or cause because they CARE. You might not agree with their reasons and rationale but never lose sight of the fact that they are trying to make the world a better place, even if you disagree vehemently.

Ask questions

If you have to talk about divisive issues try to open your mind and ask questions. Asking questions helps map the divide between individuals. You cannot present a contrasting view if you don’t truly understand how the other person sees the world. It also gives you a chance to point out flaws in their rationale. Asking questions also shows the other person that you are really hearing them and taking them seriously and treating them with respect. That will help you have a more intelligent conversation. And give the other person plenty of time to explain themselves. Don’t jump straight in with your counter argument. Listen quietly.

Don’t get emotional

When you are having an intense conversation with someone who sees the world very differently you must stay calm. Do not jump to the wrong conclusion. Don’t think they are mocking you or being rude too soon. Stay calm and respectful.

This takes practice and some will-power. It is too easy to become short-tempered or rude. As the Bible suggests be very slow to anger. If the situation is escalating, tell a joke, change the subject or get out of there. 

If you are talking to someone through social media, behave well. People post disgusting things on social media. They forget themselves and think they can get away with anything, especially when anonymous. Never forget you are speaking to someone’s son or daughter, someone’s friend or spouse. Treating people with love is crucial.

Know your argument

If you want to talk about an issue that is precious to you, make sure you can put forward a logical, concise, unemotional argument. It is easy to think you know all the facts but when you have to explain yourself you may flounder. Write down the key facts, know what counter arguments you might face. How will you defend your position? What experts back your views? What research are you going to cite? Do not get overrun by anger, just stay calm and make your case. A poorly-conceived argument will only place you on the defensive when you realise its weaknesses. Don’t set yourself up for being shot down—it will only contribute to bad feelings.

If you get stuck on the same points, it is obviously time to change the subject as you are not convincing the other person.

Appreciate that people see the world differently

What a dull world we would have, if we all saw everything the same way. Appreciate the value of diversity. Look at it this way, you may love eating Indian, Thai and Italian, different types of food, get to enjoy listening to people with vastly different viewpoints.

Open yourself up to the possibility YOU might be wrong

Don’t enter a discussion to belittle or berate the other person, enter a discussion hoping to learn. We gain from sharing our lives and opinions and feel more invested in our community by doing so. Also have you thought of the wild and crazy possibility that YOU may be wrong? None of us is infallible, and the biggest people are capable of changing their ideas and outlooks.

Look for common ground

Try to find common things you agree on. It may seem hard to acknowledge the validity of someone else’s argument, but arguments are not always straight forward. Never insult the other person or behave badly. As they say, you play the ball, not the man (or woman). And do not drag other people into the debate. No one wants to be at a social function where there is a bad vibe. Reinforce the positive feelings you have toward the other person, remember the qualities you like about this person.

This summer our environment has been damaged. We are all feeling a loss, but if you treat others with disrespect and rudeness you will lose something else – yourself! Go out into 2020 with kindness and love. Good luck!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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