A simple fact of life. We don’t always agree… especially on things that are important to us.

A painful fact of life. Disagreements and conflicts can get out of hand.

But, there is another fact of life.

We can and should learn from disagreements.

Our styles of disagreeing

First, it may be helpful to take a playful look at different styles of handling conflict.

Some people are like

  • A turtle who withdraws as a way of protecting itself
  • The teddy bear who soothes and gives way to others
  • A shark who does whatever  it takes to get his needs met,
  • The fox who compromises and gives each party a part of what they want
  • A Wise owl who finds a way to the common ground beneath the disagreement

Which most often describes you?

Insights from Pope Francis

An Italian media expert Chiara Giaccardi said there’s a small “Copernican revolution” in Pope Francis’ 2014 message, Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter.

She notes Pope Francis speaks of defining communication not as “the transmission of content” but rather “the reduction of distance.” 

Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. This is so much more than “the transmission of information from a sender to a receiver”

Pope Francis reminds me of the proverbial wise owl

To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. 

Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.”

The walls that divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another.  We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue that help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. 

A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give but also to receive.

We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.

We also need to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. 

People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated but know that they are truly accepted.  

If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions. 

Isn’t this what Pope Francis really hopes for in calling us to walk together in the synodal path?

The “8 second rule” for the reduction of distance

One of the simplest ways of moving beyond defensive listening has been described as the 8 second rule

Research shows that when the average person asks a question, they only wait 2-3 seconds for the person to answer. 

Responding quickly to another person can often be a sign of defensive listening or being “hard of listening.”

“Slow listening” allows us to see a world we don’t know, to understand experiences we haven’t had, to reframe or drop a belief long held.

What if we took time to really listen and process before responding?

As I look back at some heated “dialogs” I have been in, I realized they were more “debates” I was trying mightily to win. I really could not hear.

The best heart-to-heart talks have been characterized by trying to recognize that life is complex and others may see something that I don’t see.

An Examination of Conscience

  • Am I a “fast talker” or a “slow listener?
  • What have I learned from those who disagree with me?