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4 tips for staying in control of your temper when speaking with someone you strongly disagree with

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Diverse opinions are a good thing but they can test our patience, our resolve and our ability to control our tempers. It’s far from easy keeping your cool and staying charitable when you’re disagreeing with someone over an issue which is extremely close to your heart, central to your faith or one that you know you’re right about. But, as Christians, we’re called to be charitable not just when it’s comfortable for us to do so.

Here are three tips for tackling the temptation to throw charity out the window when you’re locked in discussion with someone over something you passionately disagree about.

Try and see things from their point of view

Discussions in which both parties refuse to engage with the opposition’s points are futile, not to mention a recipe for reducing a civilised conversation to a shouting match. Making an effort to see where the person you disagree with is coming from isn’t the equivalent to surrendering but it will make them feel heard. Plus, by determining the driving forces behind their views will enable you to better counter them and articulate your response in a way which unpacks these prominent points.

Don’t dilute but do be gentle

There are some instances where debates can go from amicable and agreeable to hostile and heated in no time at all. When talking about a sensitive subject or one that’s of great importance, there can be the desire to dominate the conversation at all costs. That can mean raising your voice, employing a particular tone and leaving your opponent with little room to get a word in edgeways. It’s not necessary to do any of these to win an argument, persuade someone to agree with us or simply get your point across. Refraining from doing these things doesn’t mean diluting the message or your passion for it, but taking care of how you communicate it. Doing so helps you demonstrate that even if you regard your point of view as superior, you don’t regard yourself as superior. An important distinction.

Avoid bragging or boasting

Incredible satisfaction can accompany the success of setting out your point of view and the subsequent admission from those who opposed you that you were right all along. We often talk about being humbled by defeat but we should strive to be humble when we’re victorious as well. As much as you might have the urge to say: “I told you so”, it’s far more charitable to accept the other person has come to agree with you without the addition of unconstructive commentary. We all make mistakes so it makes no sense to belittle others with spiteful remarks after they’ve had the courage to admit theirs. Their acceptance that they were on the wrong side of the fence and their willingness to see the error of their ways and seek to correct them should be encouraged.

Be a good loser

The flip side of that, of course, is that perhaps you have to acknowledge that your perspective was wrong and you have been edified by the other party’s take on things. If someone else is making a better point and you feel that in the end, they may just be right, have the courage to say so, commend them even, and be prepared for the possibility that your point of view is wrong.


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Someone should forward this to Bill Donahue of the Catholic League.
    This is mostly good advice, but when it comes to debating “beliefs” few are able to change them as the result of debate. I think changes in beliefs, including the understanding that we shouldn’t believe things we have no objective evidence for, is something that takes place over time. Nobody “wins” these debates. The idea is to try as hard as you can to stick to the subject and not get personal.

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