Peaceful Practices: A Guide To Healthy Communication In Conflict

“‘It takes practice and intention to communicate well in the midst of conflict,’ says Jes Stoltzfus Buller, MCC U.S. peace education coordinator and author of the curriculum. ‘If we can learn to embody healthy dialogue habitually in interpersonal interaction, it will ripple out and affect our communities and society.'”

-“Peaceful Practices: A guide to healthy communication in conflict.” Mennonite Central Committee.

The guide comprised of nine sessions is available for download. I think the key idea is that we should try to understand where the other person is coming from, be curious and actually listen to what they have to say. It’s amazing how feeling like you are being heard can change the conversation for everyone.

  • Session 1: Making peace a practice 
  • Session 2: Curiosity—Be curious, inviting diversity of ideas and opinions 
  • Session 3: Discovery—Focus on what matters 
  • Session 4: Engagement—Invite the best in yourself and others 
  • Session 5: Dialogue—Listen together for insights and deeper questions 
  • Session 6: Empathy—Seek to understand rather than persuade 
  • Session 7: Authenticity—Speak from the heart 
  • Session 8: Dignity—Consider power dynamics 
  • Session 9: Transformation—Welcome creativity 

Perhaps the holiday season is an opportunity to learn this kind of communication and practice it.

Agree to Disagree or Fight

“‘I don’t believe in argument,” he said…

…’You don’t?’ Erens said, genuinely surprised. ‘Shit, and I thought I was the cynical one.”

‘It’s not cynicism,’ he said flatly. ‘I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.’

‘Oh well, thank you.’

‘It’s comforting, I suppose.’ … ‘Most people are not prepared to have their minds changed,’ he said. ‘And I think they know that in their hearts that other people are the same, and one of the reasons that people become angry when they argue is that they realize just that, as they trot out their excuses.’

Excuses, eh? Well, if this ain’t cynicism, what is?’ Erens snorted.

‘Yes, excuses,’ he said, with what Erens thought might just have been a trace of bitterness. ‘I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you’re supposed to argue about, come later. They’re the least important part of belief. That’s why you can destroy them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place.’ He looked at Erens. ‘You’ve attacked the wrong thing.’

‘So what do you suggest one does, Professor, if one is not to indulge in this futile … arguing stuff?’

‘Agree to disagree,’ he said. ‘Or fight.’

Fight?

He shrugged. ‘What else is left?’

‘Negotiate?’

‘Negotiation is a way to come to a conclusion; it’s the type of conclusion I’m talking about.’

‘Which basically is to disagree or fight?’

‘If it comes to it.’

-Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons. London: Orbit, 2008.

DRMacIver’s Notebook: Notes on Disagreement

“If you are disagreeing with someone you don’t trust and don’t value (e.g. because you think they’re a jerk or out to get you), your disagreement is adversarial. Your goal is to manipulate them into a desired outcome, not resolve the disagreement per se. You don’t need them to agree with you, just to do what you want.”

—David R. MacIver, “Notes on Disagreement.” drmaciver.com. June 13, 2019.

Never quite thought about it this way before, but the questions of trust and value are central to every relationship.

There are many reasons to not trust someone. If someone is selfish, they will almost always put their interests above others. If someone is incompetent, you cannot trust them to do what they say they will do. If someone doesn’t like you, then you cannot trust them to pursue your best interests.

Most of us probably don’t think about it systemically. If we decide to trust someone and they habitually or seriously violate our trust, then we don’t trust them again. If we are in a low trust environment, where we have extended trust to different people and had them violate it, then we learn to be less trusting of other people in general. Same is true when someone we have extended trust to keeps that trust and when we live in high trust environments we learn to be more trusting.

There is also the question of instrumental value. Why spend time disagreeing with people of no consequence in your life? Why spend time in an adversarial relationship with someone who doesn’t add value to your life?

Trust and value can be a useful lens to think about not only disagreements, but relationships as well.