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Posted on Mar 18 2016 under Blog Posts

tribalism-1201697_1920Differences occur every day and everywhere. The differences are something that is unlike us. It could be a personality characteristic, belief, value, or opinion. We can see, sense and hear these differences in our homes and communities. We have all lived and engaged with differences without ever being in conflict. Growing up in Texas, I had access to some of the best, quality Mexican and Tex-Mex food made from family-owned restaurants and recipes passed from generations. Fast food places such as Taco Bell would not have been considered the best, in my opinion. Then, I moved to the east coast near the tristate area of Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey where you enjoyed some of the best Italian food. Now, coming from Texas, Olive Garden, a chain restaurant that is popular in our area served good Italian food. Here is where a difference of opinion occurred causing a lot of energy and conversation to occur within our families. You see our East Coast family thought Olive Garden was not “real” Italian food. To prove their point, they took us on a restaurant tour of many family-owned restaurants to taste real, authentic Italian food. One day, the conversation turned toward Tex-Mex cuisine where they thought Taco Bell was some of the best. Now, it was our turn to cook good, quality Tex-Mex food and find family-owned businesses with authentic recipes. Let’s say these differences of opinions lead to some high energy conversations but we engaged in those conversations, had fun exploring authentic food, and sharing our ideas.

But what happens when differences lead to conflict and uncomfortable, heated conversations. In the United States, the hotly debated presidential elections are certainly foddered for conversations between family, friends, co-workers and enemies. Our firmly held beliefs become our truths, and we often hold onto our self-righteousness. These could be our religious or political beliefs, our values about parenting, or our need to be a good citizen or a good person. But when we feel someone is imposing their beliefs or values on us then we might hear a phrase such as “I am right. You are wrong.” Now, when you hear this phrase, your belief is being challenged. You feel the need to defend, justify and prove the other person is downright WRONG. Not only does this approach shut down a conversation but it pushes the other person to resist your ideas, to reject your beliefs and to judge you. And, most people do not like to be judged in a negative light. When we talked about differences that don’t feel threatening like the food conversation above, we engaged each other with curiosity, explored something new and had new shared experiences.

So, the question becomes how can you engage the other person in a constructive and respectful manner even if their ideas, beliefs or needs are very different from yours?

  1. Set aside judgment. Yes, this can be difficult to do. You are already saying to yourself things like “Really?” or “Are they serious?” or “They are such a _______________(fill in the blank).” Instead, ask yourself “I wonder why?”


  1. Ask a question. Be careful of how you ask the why question. A question leading with “Why do you believe X because that is just so wrong?” is perceived as judgmental. Instead, ask a question beginning with what or how. “What is your understanding of how X’s leadership approach will impact you and your family?” or “I want to understand why you believe so strongly about this.”


  1. Respect differences. Another hard action to take. This approach doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person. If you want someone to respect your beliefs or values, you will need to do the same if you are to prevent an ugly dispute. Your goal here is to understand the why behind the difference and refrain from judging the person with name-calling and derogatory labels. What I am saying is respect the person as a whole who has had a different journey in life than you. If you engage with curiosity, it opens the window for a peek inside the other person’s thought process and gives insight into their perspective. Again, it is not about persuading or agreeing with a belief you don’t share but about understanding and respecting the individual.


  1. Set boundaries. What if you say, “I can never respect his/her belief” or “I will never understand them.” Those statements represent your own strongly held beliefs. Know what your limitations are and realize these limitations can quickly escalate a conversation into a raging, disrespectful and destructive exchange causing damage to that relationship. Simply state, “I cannot talk about this issue with you.” and keep this topic off limits.


Try these strategies the next time you think about significant differences. Engage with curiosity.

Pattie Porter

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach®




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