Expressing disagreement in social settings

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Expressing disagreement in social settings Empty Expressing disagreement in social settings

Post by The Wisp on Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:55 pm

So I actually attended a social event at school last Friday. Essentially it's a group designed to facilitate community and deeper conversations. There were eight people and we sat in a circle and had a conversation that started with a quote and jumped off from there. Though they're open to newbies,  I was the only newbie there that day (joining in for the first time the Friday before spring break is probably unusual). I spoke up a few times but mostly was quiet.

Anyway, at one point the conversation got to talking about how hard it is to be vulnerable to others, and one of the guys there started explaining it political terms. He said the reason we can't be vulnerable with others easily is because Cold-Hearted Individualistic CapitalismTM and if we were just Socialist TM we could be vulnerable with strangers and acquaintances easily. I thought the point was specious and poorly thought-out (I don't really want to get into this here, but essentially there are many communal societies that discourage vulnerability and the repression of emotion throughout history). But, though I was thinking all that, I didn't say anything for a few reasons: one, I was new to the group and didn't want to start a political debate and give off a combative first impression; two, it didn't seem like anybody else wanted to pursue that line of discussion as everybody quickly moved on from it; three, it made me really emotional, so I thought it was best to not let that out; four, what I wanted to say was "that's bullshit!", but that wouldn't be nice a way to say that. I think I made the right call in that specific situation, though I'm not positive on that.

It got me thinking, though: how do you determine when it is okay to express disagreement?

One of the things the therapist who runs the therapy group I'm in keeps encouraging me to do is to confidently speak up more about my opinions. I tend to really withhold my opinions in real life interactions, preferring to be silent or to dodge the issue. If I must give my opinion, I often hedge a lot. Also, I tend to have this verbal tic where I say "I don't know..." a lot right before or after I give my opinion. He's been trying to get me to say my opinions and thoughts without the tic or the hedging. I think it is important for me to do that, because one of my difficulties in socializing is that I don't express myself very much and thus don't leave a distinctive impression on people. It also leads me to feel repressed in social situations which is frustrating.

Additionally, it seems like socially successful people tend to express their personalities and opinions pretty liberally.

I want to be able to express my opinions and personality more freely and to express disagreement with others, but I'm scared that I'll alienate people or come off as the bad guy if I disagree with somebody or say something that might provoke disagreement in others. How should I navigate this?


Last edited by The Wisp on Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:08 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:34 pm

As much as I lurve me some socialism, I have to agree the claim that emotional repression is caused or even affected by the influence of capitalism on local economics is absolutely ridiculous.

That said, I think it's fine if you sometimes decide it's more valuable to fit in with a group than to be the one with the correct opinion. And it really can be difficult to navigate that; several of my math-classmates were "socially awkward" in that specific (three out of four of the ones I know are married now) way, and had reputations as irritating pedants among my CS-classmates because they'd nitpick and argue, and even though they were technically correct about this or that, nobody really wanted to hear it.
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Post by Guest on Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:51 pm

I hope you have your salt-shaker ready..

Wisp, take baby steps with the disagreeing. I'd say a good rule of thumb is to practice expressing disagreements one-on-one instead of doing it in a group setting, so there isn't a chance that you'll be piled on.

I suppose one way to make expressing disagreements easier would be to convey them clinically by detaching from some of those more intense emotions? I wouldn't really know how to do that though..

As a beginner, it might be helpful to filter for people whose personalities might suggest that they'll be more amenable to disagreements (which means steering clear of people with 'strong'/overly opinionated personalities?)

In the end, I think the most useful trait to cultivate in these scenarios is the ability to care just enough (But what exactly is caring "too much" right? Headsmack)

TheWisp wrote:Additionally, it seems like socially successful people tend to express their personalities and opinions pretty liberally.

Meh, those people have the luxury of having social capital. They can get away with stepping on a few toes...


Last edited by HermitTheToad on Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:54 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by eselle28 on Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:53 pm

I go through sort of an analysis that, while definitely not this thought out, kind of goes like this:

1. Do I understand what's going on here? (intellectually, socially, otherwise)
2. Is the disagreement important? If not, is it at least interesting?
3. Is anyone present going to be receptive to what I have to say? If not, do I still feel I should register my disagreement?
4. Am I the right person to raise this point? (emotionally, in terms of position or perceived bias)

I'm fairly opinionated and would say I'm moderately confrontational person, but I don't think I would have said anything in that story you told either, Wisp. For me, the point where I'd stop would be around the first couple steps, because I'm generally more careful if I don't know a group's dynamics very well and the point of disagreement isn't something crucial or incredibly offensive. Specifically, I think there's a decent chance (like, I'd bet money on it) that the guy in question is afflicted with a common ailment often found in university settings and known as I-Just-Learned-About-Marxist-Theory-Itis. It's possible that the reason no one follows up on his points is because they've already discovered that those conversations are tiresome and pointless.

I think your therapist's suggestion is a good one, though. I might suggest that you take your first steps toward that in places where you are fairly familiar with the setting - your therapy group, your classes, the group you describe after you've been to it a couple of times. If you develop the habit in lower risk settings, it's easier to stand your ground when things are a little more fraught.
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Post by Wondering on Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:12 pm

eselle28 wrote:I think there's a decent chance (like, I'd bet money on it) that the guy in question is afflicted with a common ailment often found in university settings and known as I-Just-Learned-About-Marxist-Theory-Itis.

Ha! So true.

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Post by Autumnflame on Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:10 pm

I think in your particular case, you probably made the right decision. Being new, it being a point that not a lot of people engaged with and got forgotten quickly, but (due to it being political) possibly being a hot-button issue, and it being an emotional issue for you but not actually one likely to cause harm if left uncorrected (as I'm reading it, at least; if it seemed otherwise to you, do let me know).

I think there are several levels of disagreement that can be employed at various times, depending on the context:

a) remaining silent, not agreeing, and removing oneself from the situation
b) a quiet dissent, say making a face or an inarticulate noise of disgust, but otherwise not going into it (I have, on occasion, used this one during light social situations where someone was saying something gross about women or unfunny "jokes," and I wanted to register protest, but didn't want to shit on the evening; it's usually at least been successful at keeping people from talking in a similar way to me/around me in the future)
c) actively piping up, but in a low-key and polite way (hedging with a "I'm not so sure about that" or "Actually, I think," or "Well, it's just me, but..."
d) actively piping up in a direct/aggressive way ("that's bullshit")

Similar to Eselle's considerations, I also tend to consider:

a) the group and its dynamics (if it's a "peace must be preserved at all costs!" or lively bickering is common, etc.)
b) my place in the group (am I new? Am I a fringe +1/friend, a regular, a central figure? do I want to stay on good terms with them?)
c) the importance of the disagreement (is it just a matter of technically correct or does it contribute to forward momentum of the conversation? does it bring up interesting facts or new information that wasn't present in the conversation? is it a values issue, where silence might be read as agreement with something that's abhorrent to you?)
c2) is it an emotional disagreement? Are tempers running high or is it more of a laid-back intellectual thing?

Generally the level at which I express my disagreement scales up and down depending on the above three-ish factors. I don't think I've ever used the "that's a load of crap" sort of thing except with good friends or people I otherwise trust (I'm just really bad at conflict), or sometimes online. Silent but visual disagreement and polite, nonconfrontational disagreement tend to be what gets used the most, though I suppose it might be only nonconfrontational to me (I have, apparently, offended a few people by what I thought was politely-phrased disagreement, or had more read into it than what I intended) (and certainly more than a few times I've agonized later about something I thought might have come off wrong or rude and that someone might have felt bad).
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Post by reboot on Tue Mar 24, 2015 11:31 pm

My questions in this situation are:

1) are the opinions of the person I disagree with likely to have impact in the real world or is this intellectual blah-blah. If it has consequences argue
2) Do I care enough about what this group is thinking to bother to argue? If yes, argue
3) Do I feel like practicing my counter argument? If yes, argue
4) If this seems like a group that is open to dissent, argue
5) If I feel like picking a fight, argue (avoid this)
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Post by Guest on Tue Mar 24, 2015 11:40 pm

My advice is to, express disagreement with something if the differing opinion is about something you feel strong enough towards or is important enough to you that it'll be an almost auto-response. Typically, that's what goes in my head before expressing disagreement.

Usually I ask myself, "Do I give enough of a shit to comment and/or express disagreement AND be willing to defend my position? If yes, fire away; if no, then don't worry about it."

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Post by kath on Wed Mar 25, 2015 1:56 am

I think the advice about how to decide when you're expressing disagreement has been great, but I also think a key thing is how you express the disagreement. It's totally possible to disagree with someone, ask them more about their opinion, and explain your point of disagreement without being condescending or rude [or hedging and seeming wishy-washy / unremarkable). There's also a very big difference when persuading the other person / building consensus or common ground (like disagreeing or bringing two sides together in a meeting), and when you're just in a conversation and want to provide a dissenting opinion (and when you're hearing something you really need to address, even if the other person isn't persuaded).

I think sometimes I end up with a reputation for choosing my words diplomatically, and what I have found that that means is being very specific with what my actual point is - and I do this mostly in pursuasive situations but also in conversational ones, especially on sensitive issues where I still want to say whatever it is I want to say. It can be a fine line between being very specific in what your point actually is and equivocating, though, so I tend to do that more when I want to make sure my hearer knows I'm being empathetic to the person/people I might be criticizing (like, if I'm criticizing a particular behavior, I might be very specific about what part(s) of it are problematic for me, and any reason I might understand it / how I empathize with people who do that behavior ... but that I still don't think it's OK or whatever). Like, if I'm talking about a bill that I think unfairly disadvantages a particular group, I might talk about why people want that bill, but that in my opinion a much better way to get whatever benefit I can see an argument for in a way I don't think would be unfair. This works pretty well for sensitive political issues, because I'm usually not saying "everything you want is evil" but "I don't think the cost of the solution you've proposed is the same as you do, and I don't want to pay it".

When it's more conversational / the topic isn't sensitive, being very specific and emphasizing your understanding of opposing sides isn't as important, so as long as you aren't belittling another to provide your opinion, you can probably do it. Sticking to "I" statements is a really easy way to go there - you can get rid of couching, phrase your opinion in terms of your reasons for holding that opinion, rather than talking about how stupid their opinion is ("I disagree, X because Y" instead of "how could you possibly seriously think Z?"). Then you're not attacking their opinion, you're simply explaining yours.
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Post by BasedBuzzed on Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:10 am

"Marxism/socialism/communalism and all its associated attributes have already been commodified into a fad lifestyle for middle-class white people." Smug

Next, take the discussion to a meta-level that essentially defangs it of any inflammatory content, interspersed with the occassional ironic we're-all-friends-here quip on the meandering nature of the debate you're having.

(this only works if you actually want douchebags in your tribe)


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Post by kleenestar on Wed Mar 25, 2015 12:58 pm

I think you might be very well served by reframing what you mean by "disagreement" a bit. I don't think you have to argue to express disagreement. Arguing is potentially socially costly, in part because it puts you in an implicitly adversarial relationship with the other person; if the premise of the conversation is that one of you is going to "lose" then the person you're talking to has no reason to be generous, patient, thoughtful, or kind.

For me, there are some topics where it's worth taking that stance - when people's basic humanity is being called into question, when people are blatantly misusing research - but mostly I do something a bit different. When I disagree with someone, I do two things (though the order depends on the details of the situation). One is to ask questions that help me understand why they might believe what they do. This often gives me an opportunity to disagree Socratically. The other is to present my point of view as an alternate lens. "If we looked at it this way, what could we see or know that we can't see or know with your point of view? And what does your point of view let us see or know that mine doesn't?" If I avoid setting up the situation adversarially, it makes it much easier to get the other person to see the value in my point of view. Plus - totally cynically - if the other person is the one to make things adversarial, not me, then onlookers tend to find my points more persuasive.
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Post by The Wisp on Thu Mar 26, 2015 1:08 am

Thank you for the advice, everyone!

So, to recap:

1. Context matters
2. Tread lightly in unfamiliar situations
3. Reframe it to be non-adversarial (e.g. present it as another perspective, or as a question)
4. Don't get heated and confrontational unless it is important.

I also have been thinking about this and I think I've probably inadvertently mixed together multiple issues in my first post. There's disagreement on something that could get heated, particularly political topics, using that situation as an example.

Then, there's just expressing oneself and one's opinions more generally, and not necessarily on controversial issues. There I still often have that verbal tick, over-hedge, and keep quiet/passively listen. I still feel like one of my biggest problems both in drawing others toward me and in feeling more comfortable in social situations is that I'm very bottled up and show little personality or distinctiveness. I think that may well be a separate, and larger, issue. I have difficulty "just being myself" (as much as a loathe that advice, there's some truth to it). Does anybody have thoughts on that?
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Post by eselle28 on Thu Mar 26, 2015 4:43 am

Am I reading correctly that in situations that aren't controversial, there are actually two things happening, that you're not expressing many opinions at all and that you're over-hedging when you do? As a first step, I'd suggest that you separate those two things and not think of them as the same issue, either.

When it comes to the hedging issue, I'd say that a second step might be looking over your communication and seeing where you do it, how often you do it, and if there are situations where you do it more. I'm obviously incredibly hedgey when I write, and I'm that way when I speak too. I was already that way, and studying political science and economics and law tended to reinforce those traits pretty hard. I haven't taken too many philosophy courses, but I'm curious whether that kind of phrasing is rewarded there as well. Anyway, the connection is that while I'm generally really comfortable with my hedging and it's not held against me socially (this is probably gendered, since hedging is more liked in women and especially in women whose opinions might otherwise be controversial) there are times when it isn't beneficial and when I want to come across differently. I started on it by paying attention to how much I hedged, and then once I was aware of when and how I did it, consciously saying things in stronger ways. I know you have social anxiety, so maybe a good place to start would be to read your writing after the fact and then perhaps move on to conversations with the very safest people you talk to.
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