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Every day we are called to find commonality with others in a sea of differences. Unity and harmony are critical foundations for any system to function, survive and thrive. To achieve this balance in our relationships, we must learn how to communicate respectfully when facing these differences. By following the love and support prescription in Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, the goal is to increase social and emotional intimacy, which will in turn decrease social and emotional isolation.

Disagreements are inevitable. Keeping one another informed of our personal preferences, opinions and needs builds trust.

This will require our energetic engagement. Having tolerance is a virtuous and good starting point, but we need more than that; we need to open to real encounters when conflicts occur. This would be too difficult a task without a few guidelines to aid us in keeping our hearts and minds open when disagreements flair. Otherwise, we may be tempted to isolate instead of negotiate.

Guidelines to Promote a Process of Respectful Communication:


Listen attentively and wait until the other person is finished making their point. Even if you strongly disagree, interrupting and talking over them before they have finished will be counterproductive, creating more tension and defensiveness.


Accept each other’s unique, emotionally sensitive areas. These areas always deserve to be handled gently. It would not be fair to expose another’s “Achilles Heel” in order to gain the upper hand in a power struggle.

Stick to Your Message

The key here is that we can disagree with the topic without denigrating the person who holds the differing opinion. As frustrations arise, there is a tendency to abandon objectivity and descend into subjective attacks on each other’s character. Veering off subject to point out another’s faults creates confusion, and worst of all, fosters feelings of hurt. Return to focusing on the topic.


Empathy is defined in Webster as: the ability to share in another’s emotions or feelings in order to understand him better. In his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. explores the power of empathy. He writes: “Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. We often have a strong urge to interrupt, to give advice. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”


Apologize, simply and directly, when you realize that the feelings of the other person may have been abandoned in your fervor to make your point. “I’m sorry. I care about this subject, but not as much as I care about you.”

Call a Time Out

When a discussion gets over-heated, suggesting a temporary respite is a humane action for all involved. Before taking the break, calm fears of abandonment by naming when you will reconvene.

Practice Defaulting to Compassion Over Rejection

Negotiations that are both candid and kind help to create a safety net of inclusion. In this container of acceptance, ideas may be rejected, but the parties involved will not be. We do not have the right to change another. (It doesn’t work anyway, and heaven knows we’ve tried). What we can do is strive to change and improve the way we relate to others. In all of our relationships, (except those that are abusive) there is always room for more thoughtful negotiating.

When our interactions are based more in care, and less in correction, it will result in increasing love and connection and decreasing fear and isolation. Learning how to communicate with dignity will help us to give and receive, share and listen, and ultimately create a bridge to one another across the white water rapids of our perceived differences. Disagreements are inevitable. Keeping one another informed of our personal preferences, opinions and needs builds trust. Heightening our awareness of how to disagree constructively will aid us immeasurably in healing our relationships.

What tools do you use to promote continued communication when disagreements arise?

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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