Three Tips To Help You Disagree Politely

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Two bear cubs playfully fighting.
How to disagree without losing a friend.

We’re living in divisive times, and despite mama’s best efforts, many of us are finding it harder than ever to be polite when disagreements cause our tempers to flare.

Michelle Kinder, a family therapist and executive director of Momentous Institute in Dallas, warns about how this shortened tolerance and compassion can influence how our children view the world. In an article published in TIME, Kinder argues that as hard as it may be at times, encouraging our kids to be accepting and open (even when they disagree) is the key to a healthy “family system” and consequently a healthy country.

To help us—because Lord knows we need it—Kinder outlined three tactics to employ the next time you find yourself forgetting your good southern manners.

1. Beware the Amygdala Hijack.

“You over-react. We all do. It happens,” Kinder writes. But understanding what happens in your brain when you disagree with someone can help us bring our best selves to difficult situations. When differences seem too big to overcome, the amygdala — part of the brain’s primitive emotional control center — can hijack the prefrontal cortex, the home of rational thinking.

“This overload activates the fight, flight or freeze response and makes it impossible for us to see the situation with clear eyes,” Kinder explains. “When triggered like this, we say or do things we normally wouldn’t.”

But with heightened awareness of what’s going on in your brain, she says we can choose to handle situations differently. When things start getting heated, whether it’s in person or behind a computer screen, pay attention to physical clues, like your heart racing. Awareness strengthens your capacity to recover quickly, maintain calm and keep thinking, she writes. It’s not a quick fix, but it can help you to relax and think rationally before saying something that could maybe damage a relationship.

2. Approach differences with genuine curiosity.

According to Kinder, when we see someone new, our brains identify them as either an “outsider” or part of our group in less than a thousandth of a second. These snap judgements can impair our ability to listen and keep an open mind. Instead, she suggests listening to family or strangers with curiosity.

“This will transform them in your mind from a flat caricature to a three-dimensional human being,” she explains. “This makes it easier to accept everyone’s flawed complexity, including our own.”

3. Model clarity and courage.

“Call attention to acts of intolerance, both publicly and in your own daily life,” Kinder writes. “Our kids need to see us valuing diversity and developing intergroup friendships — and to see us challenging our assumptions and growing in the process.”

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