How to Disagree Respectfully

How to Disagree Respectfully

Regardless of your political leanings, we can all agree that these are highly charged times. Opinions are varying and different and we aren’t always taking the time to listen to one another. In fact, we often just speak louder, thinking that will get the other person to listen. Spoiler alert: that doesn’t work.

In DBT, we spend a lot of time talking about how to be interpersonally effective. In fact, there is an entire module specifically focused on how to keep relationships healthy and strong, how to ask for what you want clearly, and how to set limits and boundaries if that is what you need. All these skills are necessary when we disagree with people in our lives. They help us to communicate effectively and disagree respectfully.

In order to maintain healthy relationships, we want to focus on the GIVE skill, highlighted by Marsha Linehan in her DBT Skills Training Manual.

The GIVE acronym stands for:

  • (be) Gentle
  • (act) Interested
  • Validate
  • (Use an) Easy manner.

What the heck does all that mean? If we are maintaining relationships, these four elements are really important.

We want to be gentle with ourselves and others, meaning we want to be aware of our tone of voice, our mannerisms and our general interaction style. If we speak in a harsh tone, chances are, that conversation isn’t going far.

Next, we want to act interested. Notice it does not say you have to BE interested. Sometimes, what is important to one is not important to another. What’s important is that we engage and participate. Sometimes, we may have to fake it a little.

Validation is one of the most important skills to utilize, especially when you don’t agree. To validate means to acknowledge another person’s experience, to recognize that you can understand how they feel, what they are thinking and why they may be acting in a certain way. Validation DOES NOT mean you approve of what another is doing; it just means you can understand the emotion. Validation is incredibly important and that recognition of another individual’s experience can help lessen the intensity of a conflict. With all the emotions running at an all time high, lessening the intensity is ideal.

Lastly, it’s important to use an easy manner. This does not mean be overly soft if you disagree. However, attacking, belittling or putting someone down is not a way to be heard, nor will it help to maintain a relationship. So, take a deep breath and settle yourself before responding. Work on getting grounded, so you can respond in a calm and measured manner.

Emotions often impair our judgement and can make it hard to communicate with people in our lives effectively. If we can slow ourselves down to utilize a skill like GIVE, we might find that our interactions improve, as well as our relationships. In these times, when our emotions are running at an all time high, what could be better than that?

Authored by:  Dr. Jennifer Hartstein