10 Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree

February 14th, 2012 by Dionna | 14 Comments
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Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions with Other Parents

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.



What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can!

With any disagreement, any negative interaction, we have the power to choose our responses. Responding respectfully can strengthen our relationships and build closer connections.

Today I’m sharing ten tips that you can use as a parent, a partner, or simply as a person when you find yourself in a disagreement or conflict.

  1. Breathe. Take a moment to remember that while you may not be able to control the emotion you feel in response to someone’s words or behavior, you can control your response to that emotion. Your reaction is always your choice – make it a conscious choice. Allow yourself to feel and process your emotions. Give yourself permission to step back. A calm, measured response in an hour is almost always better than a thoughtless, harsh response immediately.
  2. Don’t take it personally. One of the most eye-opening things I have learned is that a person’s judgment of or reaction to me is not entirely based on me or the situation. Our judgments and reactions are born out of a lifetime of experiences. Positive reactions stem from good memories, happy times, and successes. Negative reactions come from past hurts, failures, and regrets. So the next time someone criticizes you, remember that the words are more of a reflection on the speaker than on you.
  3. Make a connection. If you are having an in-person interaction, make a conscious effort to make meaningful eye contact. If you are comfortable doing so, make a physical connection by reaching out to pat the person’s arm or even giving her a hug (especially if it is your child or partner). If you are having a difficult online interaction, pretend the person is sitting next to you. Form a mental picture of sitting across from the person. Remember that there is a face – a person just like you – behind the words on the screen.
  4. Ask questions. One way you can respond more mindfully to a negative statement (instead of flying off the handle) is by asking for clarification. When you hear a statement that sounds negative, ask the speaker to explain more about where they are coming from. Chances are the statement had nothing to do with you, but more with the person’s past experiences. Learning about their viewpoint can help you craft a respectful response.
  5. Share information without expectations. If the person seems open to a conversation, make it just that – a conversation, not a soapbox. If you decide to open up about your own philosophy, preferences, or experiences, do so because you enjoy talking about the subject. If your goal is persuasion, the other person will be more likely to resist.
  6. Reverse the roles. This one is also known as “treat others the way you would like to be treated.” If someone was trying to convince you to parent or live differently, what approach would you appreciate? Would you be open to change if someone was bullying you? Criticizing you? Blaming you? Or would you want them to listen to you, sharing information in a neutral way, showing concern for you?
  7. Focus on the positive. Try to find a common, positive ground. Sometimes that may be as simple as the fact that we are all acting out of love for our children, regardless of whether you believe some actions to be misguided.
  8. Remember that everyone is working with the tools they have at the moment. No one sets out to make mistakes. We’re all struggling to parent (and live) in the best way we know how. When we learn better, we can do better.
  9. Agree to disagree. Disagreements do not always resolve in complete understanding. Sometimes time, circumstances, or attitude mean that we will not see eye to eye. But disagreement does not need to mean conflict – we can be respectful and supportive in other ways.
  10. You can only plant the seed, ideas take time to grow. When you are passionate about a subject, sometimes the best way to have it take hold in another person’s life is to let them see you live it. Be the seed of change.

How do you respond respectfully when you disagree with someone?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it’s from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural – Just Don’t Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother’s groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the “Mommy-space” online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God’s Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles… — Jenny at I’m a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents’ worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parent are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting – Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she’s learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.

14 Responses to:
"10 Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree"

  1. Love your tips, especially #10! I’m seeing the results especially when it comes to breastfeeding matters!

  2. Great tips. Especially breathe. That almost always helps me.
    I think it really can strengthen a relationship to realize that their way isn’t so bad either. I know lots of happy kids and happy families who do things different. I, personally, love sleeping with my kids. But it’s not for everyone. I think realizing that it’s not for everyone helps understand and communicate better.

  3. Crunchy Con Mommy   crunchyconmom

    I love the seed idea. It’s so tempting to feel like you have to “win the debate”, but that’s not what really changes people’s minds usually-it’s many small things over time.

  4. Jenn @ Monkey Butt Junction   MBJunction

    Agreeing to disagree can be so hard, but sometimes you have to just accept that you can’t change someone else’s mind, and they can’t change yours. Very intelligent, well-meaning, good people can have differing opinions on things. A good list!

  5. Laura   Puginthekitchen

    Fantastic list! In fact, I recently had to agree to disagree and it was SO freeing. Sometimes, it is better to just be quiet and walk away from the situation.

  6. Hi Dionna,

    thank you for this post, it’s really fantastic! When I saw your call out for posts on this subject I lit up and thought that’s a subject I love. I really love and agree with all these suggestions here and aim to practice them and I do notice that conflicts that erupt tend to end in a closer connection (the polar opposite of how it goes when we don’t practice nonviolent communication).

    I love the point about making the connection, I notice that I use the other person’s name a LOT when there’s a conflict in the hope of offering reassurance of my wish to stay connected, I also really notice that most people don’t use my name when there’s a conflictual discussion happening and I find myself really wishing they did, the lack of it brings up a kind of “please remember that we’re both human and both doing our best” kind of feeling.

    Just raving about it, love it so much, thank you!!

  7. This is such an important and thoughtful post! I especially love #8- “Remember that everyone is working with the tools they have at the moment.” It’s so true, isn’t it, that parenting is a tough job and we’re all doing the best we can with what we know. Thanks for hosting this carnival!

  8. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    Love this list! What stood out for me to work on is realizing that people’s reactions have more to do with themselves than with me, asking for clarification about what they mean, and sharing without expectations. I will keep thinking of these. Don’t you feel like, after this carnival, you’re primed to start interacting hither and yon?

  9. These tips are great, I especially enjoyed the last one. I have definitely seen changes in the mindsets of those around me simply be observing my success with how I parent Jesse.

  10. Great list! I think I’m going to reread it a few times to make it really stick! Sometimes I flounder with #1, even though I KNOW my reaction is all me, not them. “A calm, measured response in an hour is almost always better than a thoughtless, harsh response immediately.” is way too true! When it comes to interacting with people we won’t see again in an hour, I think it’s better to just say nothing at all than to say something inappropriate. Waiting an hour is definitely better when dealing with spouses and children!!

  11. Ashleigh   ashleighblatt

    Great article! I think it hits on all the major points starting with Breathe! Each point is good and useful in turning the conversation around. Good for being a parent, a spouse, a friend, a boss and a co-worker! Thanks!

  12. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    What an awesome list, Dionna! I just bookmarked it. I love the suggestion about not taking it personally. I think it’s so often true that a conflict shows the speaker’s problems or defenses. Realizing that makes compassion so much easier. :)

  13. It’s funny, when I first read this post, I was looking at it in the mindset of comments being made by friends or reltatives or strangers. As I’ve been sitting here blog surfing (and going back to the very beginning of this carnival to read about support or lack of support of a coparent) I realized that my biggest critic is in fact, my husband.
    We are night and day. And it’s only recently beginning to hit me how unusual we are. I’ve always been a free spirit, loving to read, garden, enjoy nature, etc. For me, cloth diapering was a given once I discovered it! Breastfeeding was a must even when no one I knew did it – and everyone I did know (especially my husband) thought it was creepy. When I get stressed I meditate. He grabs a xanex. I like healthy food, he won’t give up his fried proccessed foods or his smoking, or diet sodas. I like to look at artwork, he likes to watch trashy talk shows.
    But. We almost never fight. Somehow, we’ve managed to find a way to communicate with each other in a kind and respectful way (*almost* all of the time). We can keep each other in check without being hateful or malicious. And when we can’t agree we know someone has to bend, it’s not always him and it’s not always me. We work together just like Yin and Yang. I think that’s one of the greatest things we can model for our kids.
    Oh it’s been hard. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it’s been at times to take a stand on certain things – or to give up things that I feel are so important. But in the end, what’s most important is we take care of each other and the caring for the children will get done in it’s own way, as long as we can keep it together and support each others choices even if we agree with them.

  14. Jill C.

    When Andrew and I are having a disagreement, I try to remember that I pretty much always have an audience and that we are modeling disagreement for that audience. It helps me to never get really nasty in our fighting. I enjoyed reading your other tips. Disagreements in parenting never go away, even when your “babies” are grown up and moved out of the house ;)

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