Whether you voted Yes or No, a psychologist explains how to politely differ – and why you just can’t understand the other side.
No doubt, at some point in your life you’ve experienced an unpleasant or heated exchange with a friend or family member when discussing a hot topic like politics. You feel your argument is well-constructed, logical and factual – and that theirs is ill-informed or worse, uneducated and/or stupid.
Why this happens? Research suggests our ingrained refusal to change our views is thanks to our ancestors. In other words, it’s in our survival instincts to find a community of like-minded people to keep us safe.
Then, there’s the psychological phenomenon of the “false-consensus bias”, or why we believe “everyone is like us”. This theory helps explain the intense and often confused emotional reactions we have in regards to events like Trump being elected, the BREXIT vote, and a supposedly popular TV show being cancelled. It also explains the surprise and shock when friends or family have differing political and social views to us.
Why we don’t like to change our minds
There are many psychological terms that explain why we become ingrained in our own beliefs to the point that we dismiss others’ opinions – think “confirmation bias”, “cognitive dissonance”, and “belief superiority”.
“Confirmation Bias” on one hand, explains the tendency to embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject or ignore information that contradicts them, even if the information is factual. A good example is knowing smoking kills, but still choosing to light a cigarette.
Meanwhile, “Belief Superiority” is the mistaken impression that our opinion or belief is superior to other people’s opinions or beliefs, which can often be the root of many hostile arguments and can harm important relationships.
Psychology terms aside, here are some practical tips on how to have constructive and meaningful discussion, without the arguing.
1. Listen to the other person’s view
The difference between hearing and listening, is that listening is a conscious cognitive effort to understanding meaning. Listening to someone else when they speak and recognising that you can learn from each other is a sign of a healthy relationship with those you care about.
2. Appreciate the value of opposing views
Appreciating differing opinions and views builds effective teams. Differences can illuminate, broaden our horizons, provide growth, and help us to gain new insights. We actually gain more from sharing differing opinions and feeling connected to others so don’t fall out with important friends and family members, rather use it as an opportunity to truly understand the value their diverse view may add to understanding the broader issue.
3. Keep your calm even if the conversation becomes heated
Notice when your emotions are becoming bigger, once the conversation descends into an argument it becomes impossible to maintain an open mind or be respectful to one another. The best way to remain calm is to pay attention to your body posture by avoiding aggressive body language like crossing your arms or balling up your fists and keep your breathing rate slow through deep long breathing.
4. Find common ground
It may seem impossible, but validating and acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint can go along way in keeping the discussion respectful and it may even help to provide growth and understanding towards the topic you are communicating about. As adults we can appreciate that things in life are not always black and white, and can often be grey.
5. Don’t pull other people into the disagreement
Creating a team only serves to escalate the conversation and alienate people from being open minded, it can also create tensions and ruin important relationships. Keep things focused on you and whoever you’re having the disagreement with.
6. Avoid personal attacks
Digressing from the topic and using personal insults to degrade someone’s argument because of your differing views is not respectful and can turn a conversation into a hurtful exchange that can damage a relationship. If the other person starts to attack your character, this is a good time for you to choose to exit the conversation, have personal respect boundaries by establishing with the other person that this type of tactic in an argument is not OK.
7. Reinforce and maintain the positive experiences and feelings you have shared, despite the opposing views
If your relationship with this person is important and strong, this argument or difference of opinions will not destroy the relationship. It is important to continue to maintain an air of openness and mutual respect with one another and recognise the importance to have positive experiences together outside of intellectual debate.
8. Help the other person feel good about themselves before discussing hot topics
Research found that people who feel good about themselves are more likely to be open-minded and to change their opinions.
So that we have a YES result in the same-sex marriage survey. But are we out of the woods yet? Let’s look at the next steps towards marriage equality, with some pitfalls still remaining.