From Disagreement to Dialogue: Navigating Differences with Respect

Is there tension in the group of people you lead? One way to move toward unity is to guide the focus toward what the members of the group share in common.

Even if the disagreements are great and deep, when we focus on what unites us, we will slowly resolve what divides us. Here are two examples:

If you are a national leader and desire to move the country you lead away from a state of two sides mudslinging and demonizing each other, focus on what your people agree on. For example, in the US it seems that there is nothing the conservative and liberal camps agree on. Not true. They agree on the vitality of representative democracy (one person, one vote), the Bill of Rights, cultural diversity, innovation and technology, national parks, economic opportunities, our history of achievement, a first-class military, and our culture of philanthropy and community service.

If you are a couple disagreeing on a few major topics, start with and focus on what you agree on. Consider how you fell in love, your mutual love for God, your passion for your children, how you like to have fun together, maybe how you enjoy volunteering to help the community.

We need leaders who remind us of what brings us together—not just by mentioning it once, but by immersing us in a culture of shared ideals and values. Yes, we must work out our differences, but if these differences constitute 90 percent of our dialogue, we are doomed.

Here is how you can start:

  1. List the ideals your people have in common.
  2. Now, make a list of their differences and areas of contention.
  3. Accentuate what is mutually shared. Create discussions, activities, and programs designed around the common values.
  4. Put less emphasis on the differences.
  5. Decouple difference of opinion from contempt. (ie: I may disagree with you, but I will not think badly about you. I will not demonize your character.)
  6. Listen to each person’s point of view.
  7. Slowly start to align differing points of views, or at least find ways to co-exist, in a respectful manner.

I hope you are intentional to guide your relationships, your team, and your organization to build cohesion, while at the same time, slowly and methodically, dealing with differences.

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