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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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Give It to Me Straight- Communicating Directly and Constructively

verbal-agression-e1294095402272It is a widely known fact among my family and friends that I am direct. I am not a person who beats around the bush or sugarcoats. The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines beating around the bush as “To speak evasively or misleadingly, or to stall or waste time.” Merriam-Webster’s definition of sugarcoat is, “to talk about or describe (something) in a way that makes it seem more pleasant or acceptable than it is.” Many people I have found tend to dodge or pacify their delivery of certain messages to avoid conflict. Or, they dodge and pacify because being direct makes them uncomfortable. I am not afraid of conflict because I learned how to resolve and manage it efficiently and constructively, which is a skill everyone can learn! Even before learning these skills, I was direct. I have always been this way because I observed when I was growing up that when people are not straightforward they are leaving room for misunderstanding. I also feel there is a misconception that being direct means you must be nasty or hurtful. There is an art to delivering a direct message in such a way that it is received well, and the recipient is not offended.

So what is the best way to deliver a direct message?

  1. Plan out what you will say before the conversation happens.

My fiancé often thought I overly prepared when I was speaking to someone about an uncomfortable topic because I would plan out what I was going to say. However, recently he had an awkward conversation that required directness. He prepared beforehand and in doing so he felt that it assisted with the effectiveness of his delivery. I recommend saying things out loud because hearing the words spoken allows you to critique and alter whatever is needed.

  1. Talk directly to the person who you want to receive the message.

Never relay your message to someone and ask him or her to talk to the person in your place. First, this is a complete cop-out. Second, it can hurt the person’s feelings especially if the message being delivered is a difficult one. While technology has provided many outlets for communication, I believe face-to-face is always best. If you must give a message in a different form make sure you are the one doing it.

  1. Communicate the message honestly, but do not be hurtful.

Anytime a person feels like they are being attacked they will get defensive. The moment someone gets defensive the possibility of conflict increases. There are several ways to deliver a message directly so that it can be well received. I outlined my two favorite tactics below.

Tactic #1 – Ask a question. If a friend is consistently late when meeting you for lunch rather than saying, “Leah, you are late again, I have been waiting for fifteen minutes, and it’s rude.” Most likely, Leah will get defensive. Instead, you could say, “Leah, I noticed you are often running late when we meet for lunch, next meeting would it be more convenient to pick a later time?” The same message is being conveyed, but Leah will be less likely to get defensive.

Tactic #2 – Make a comparison/empathize. When I was on my high school’s dance team, we learned a challenging routine that we would be performing at a basketball game. One of my team members was struggling with a combination. I pulled her aside and said, “I noticed that this combination was giving you a hard time. I had issues with it too; let me show you a trick I used that made it a little easier!” I was able to address directly an issue and show that I too had struggled. Many times when people speak directly to others they can come across as condescending or snobby, pointing out your struggles and flaws can assist in keeping a the conversation balanced.

The more people practice being direct in a non-confrontational way, the least likely misunderstandings will arise.

Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management


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