IDEAS: Strength can help you actually talk to friends, family members and others you disagree with

Note from Ideas and Voices Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest column by Arch Grieve, a Mediation Specialist at the Dayton Mediation Center, appeared on the Dayton Daily News Ideas and Voices page on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020 with others on the topic of communicating with those we disagree with during politically toxic times. Other columns are linked below.

With election season now kicking into high gear, you may be feeling even more antipathy toward relatives, friends, co-workers or classmates who hold opposing political beliefs.

Many of us may even find ourselves in a situation where we need a conflict coach to help us navigate these problematic relationships. I know I could certainly use one — an admission that might surprise some people, considering that my job involves mediating disputes at the Dayton Mediation Center.

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The model of mediation we use at my workplace is based on something called the “Relational Worldview.” It holds that everyone is driven by two main desires: autonomy and connectedness.

When either are missing from our relationships, we have conflict. So how does one maintain their own beliefs (and sanity) without severing these relationships?

The first thing to do is to get to a place of strength. I don’t mean strength in the sense of trying to overpower someone, I mean the kind of strength that comes from your own convictions. When we are strong in this sense, we are calm, clear, confident and decisive. It’s important to remember that we are ultimately the only ones who can control this. It’s easy to allow other people to pull us into weakness, so operating from a position of strength is key.

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But strength alone isn’t enough. Right now, in our current political discourse, I would argue that what is in shorter supply is connection. The opposite of connection is self-absorption, and many of us are stuck there. We find it difficult to comprehend how someone across the aisle could hold to their beliefs, and we have no interest in finding out. This leads to alienation and demonization of the other.

So how do we bridge this gap? There are lots of ways, but probably the most effective is to talk to people who see things differently. Sure, it’s easy to say, but how many of us really do it? Many of us like to think we’re good at taking other peoples’ perspectives, but few of us truly are. The old adage that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies even more in conflict situations.

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But what about when you know you’re never going to change someone’s mind? I’ve been in this situation before, and I had to take a step back and ask myself which mattered more — being right or saving the relationship? Ultimately, only you can decide the answer to this question, and I can’t tell you what’s right for your situation. What I can say is that operating from strength and connection typically leads to better outcomes, both in mediation and in the real world.

Arch Grieve is a Mediation Specialist at the Dayton Mediation Center. He serves as chair of the Dayton Sister City Committee and teaches political science at Sinclair Community College.

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