A failure of disagreement is usually some form of polarisation or conflict. But what does successful disagreement look like? It's not agreement. It may be some form of recognition that the different interests of antogonists in a dispute can only be satisfied through some kind of mutuality.
A successful disagreement opens up the complexity of real-life situations and creates space for people to develop their position and options by better understanding people who hold opposing views and maintaining relationships with them.
The threat of difference
Inherent in every disagreement is something that threatens us at some level. Jung suggests that the negative qualities we ascribe to others reflect our own hidden desires and anxieties, those that are too dangerous to express to ourselves. St Ethelburga’s does not work from a therapeutic perspective, but we do know that conversation that reveals to us that our initial judgements of others are false can have a startlingly transformative effect.
There are many external and internal factors that polarise our perceptions of other people, such as
• Self interest
If our response on encountering a difference which disturbs us (i.e. a threat) is to start by taking a side, we have taken the first step to allowing polarisaition to lead us into conflict. An alternative strategy is to develop curiosity about the nature of the disagreement and about our own and our opponents’ positions.
a) Towards conflict
- Take sides Decide to defend one position rather than explore the nature of the disagreement
- Select information Give less value to information that doesn’t fit with our position
- Attribute views Make unchecked assumptions about what our opponent thinks and attribute views they may not hold.
- Personalise The person becomes the problem, not the issue.
- Generalise All people who hold this view are the same
- Devalue The opponent is a less important human being than those with whom we agree
- Demonise The problem is that person’s fault and they must be destroyed
b) Towards complexity
- Curiosity The nature and causes of this disagreement are interesting
- Listen An accurate understanding of the opponent’s position is important for me
- Maintain Connections Define the limits of this particular disagreement and keep other aspects of the relationship alive
- De-personalise This disagreement is about issues and I maintain respect for the opponent
- Develop position The emerging complexity of the disagreement leads me to a more sophisticated understansing of my own position
- Constructive action I take responsibility for finding options for a positive outcome without having to agree.
Possible strategies for moving from conflict to complexity?
1. De-escalation: Create safety and remove the need to pursue the conflict. Help protagonists process emotions.
2. Depolarisation: Reduce internal and external polarising factors (fear, prejudice, history etc) and work on deconstructing stereotypes
3. Explore the threat : Enable people to explore what’s at really stake for them and what lies beneath this
4. Stimulate self-reflection/awareness: Generate self-reflexiveness to enable people to their own recognise patterns of negative behaviour, and mimicry of opponent
5. Seek Transformation: Recognise opportunities to see the humanity of the enemy and embrace for empathic connections
This is work in progress - Please contact me if you'd like to join me in taking these ideas forward into active strategies for helpful intervention
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