Singapore has celebrated her 56th birthday this month and this reminds us of how far our country has progressed! While we have had measurable success in living peacefully as a multi-racial and multi-religious society. Yet, as a global society, from time to time it is common for us to struggle with navigating differences in cultures, opinions, or worldviews that vary from ours.

We face this in the workplace, at home, or amongst our friend groups. Given that our everyday exchanges with friends, colleagues, and family do not just impact our own levels of wellbeing, esteem, and sense of belonging but also that of others, navigating differences in perspectives is key to broadening our social circle and achieving more satisfying relationship outcomes. 

We understand in navigating differences, some disagreements are easier to resolve (or overlook) than others; more significant topics such as race and gender can be a little harder to talk about, especially when we have friends and family who hold opposing beliefs or beliefs we think are morally wrong. 

When, how, and should we even start navigating differences? How can we maintain peace in our relationships while broaching sensitive topics? 

First, understand WHY our beliefs are important to us.

  1. Many of our perspectives are formed from our reservoir of lived experiences and personal life lessons. Hearing something opposing might make us feel like our lived experiences are invalidated, and we may take these disagreements personally.  
  2. Some of our perspectives are regarding a cause we support with the buy-in of people needed to spark the social change we hope for. Having people disagree with us might cause us to feel frustrated, as we might perceive their opinions to be a large contributing cause for deeply seated societal problems.

So yes, our views matter a lot to us – we tend to feel strongly about them, especially if we have had personal experiences which led us to believe certain things. Yet, this is the same way the people with opposing beliefs are thinking! Everyone has vastly different experiences and reasons for their perspectives.

So… Here’s HOW we can bring up our opinions while showing consideration to others.

Step 1: Approach with the intention to listen – listen to understand, not to defend!
  • We often seek to be understood more than we seek to understand. Listen to what the other party has to say. Instead of thinking of it as a debate that needs to be won, it might be helpful to view it as a conversation about genuine viewpoints. 
  • Perspective-taking entails looking beyond our own point of view, keeping an open mind, and considering how someone else may think or feel about something. Placing ourselves in another person’s shoes can aid us in finding a mutual point of view that both parties can agree with.
  • By doing so, we are also expanding our knowledge on different perspectives. This can help us to be less judgemental and more accepting towards different viewpoints and actions, even if we still don’t agree with them.

Regulating emotions in navigating differences
Step 2: Regulate your emotions
  • It is common (and valid) to feel emotionally upheaved when talking about things we feel strongly for. However, we may end up using strong emotional words and body language that might cause the other person to feel attacked and become defensive if we are not mindful to regulate our personal emotions. 
  • Furthermore, the other party might be unaware of our deeper motivations and emotional reasons behind our perspectives. If we come from a place of unresolved hurt or anger towards that particular people group, personality type, or character type, it might be a better idea for us to work through these emotions before even engaging in such a discourse. This would help to preserve the current relationship you have with the other party, without becoming overly combative in discussion. 

Step 3: Be patient, people don’t change overnight.
  • Sometimes, what we need to do is to let go of our need to change another person. Recognizing that we cannot control what others think and do can be liberating, as we release ourselves from being responsible for their actions. What we can focus on instead is to do our best in representing and sharing more about our views. 
  • The same way we can’t change our personality in only a few days, thought patterns and belief systems are deeply ingrained in us. Hence, they can take many conversations, and months and years to be transformed. Let us not impose our expectations on the other party, and remain patient and hopeful!

Navigating differences is possible.

Let us speak only when we know we are ready to first listen.

Let us speak only when we are sure we won’t be overly emotional.

Let us speak only when we are willing to wait.

Let us speak only when we are open to the idea of agreeing to disagree.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou