The current Covid-19 pandemic has given us plenty to be concerned about. Against a backdrop of daily virus-related deaths being reported, health and safety is top of mind for everyone. As the economy takes a hit, financial woes are escalating. Huge swaths of the population are unsure of their future job status.
If that all wasn’t enough, we're also facing the challenge of how to maintain friendships through the pandemic. The complexity of the situation is increasingly having a polarizing effect and putting people at odds with one another. As nerves are frayed, friendships are being strained and even terminated.
Here are 7 strategies to help you keep your friendships intact during this pandemic, or any other trying time that leads to highly polarized viewpoints.
1. Don't get stuck in an either/or paradigm.
Operating from an either/or paradigm limits your options unnecessarily, as it identifies two distinct options and excludes all the possible options that my lie in-between. It also lays the groundwork for an antagonistic dynamic, since there's typically a presumption that the two options are in opposition to each other. Instead of clinging to an either/or paradigm, consider that there may be many possibilities that have some validity. This is especially useful in highly dynamic situations where the information available is rapidly changing.
2. Look for common ground.
Even when two people appear to be standing in opposition on a matter, it's possible there is still some commonality to be found. There are some basic values that the vast majority of us share, e.g.: we want everyone to be healthy and safe, we value access to uncensored information, we respect critical thinking, etc. If you find yourself at loggerheads with someone close to you, try changing the tone by focusing on the things you do agree on, and work from there. Instead of getting caught up in defending your stance, look for the places where your stance and the other person's stance overlap.
3. Ask questions.
It's easy to react negatively when you hear something you don't agree with. And if you believe what you're hearing is totally outrageous or potentially harmful, it's extremely hard not to react negatively. As an alternative, try responding with some questions instead, e.g.: "Can you elaborate on that?" or "Can you explain that in more detail?" Simply getting clarification or some additional information may put what you're hearing into an entirely different light.
4. Make an effort to understand your friend's perspective.
Two people may be facing the same situation, but viewing it from completely different perspectives based on their unique backgrounds and experiences. If what you're hearing doesn't seem to make any sense, don't rush to dismiss it or brush it off. Instead, make an effort to understand your friend's perspective. Try asking non-judgmental questions that will let you into your friend's headspace, e.g.: "What are you most concerned about in this situation?" or "You seem really passionate on that particular point; why is that?" There's a good chance your friend's opinions will make more sense when you understand more of what's behind them.
5. Offer some grace when dealing with your friend's "hot spots".
We all have our "hot spots", those areas where we're especially sensitive. The reasons for such sensitivity are plentiful and unique for each person. However, there are common tendencies in how we respond when a hot spot gets poked. We tend to over-react, overcompensate, lash out, become defensive, and/or view things in a highly biased way. Some people retreat and shut down entirely.
It's not your job to manage someone else's hot spots. However, cutting your friend some slack is a loving, kind thing to do; and it can go a long way. Instead of challenging your friend, which more than likely will only ramp things up and exacerbate things, recognize that there's a sensitive spot there and try offering some grace and understanding.
6. Don't debate when either party is emotionally worked up.
Even if you and your friend are typically able to engage in healthy debate, refrain from doing so when either one of you is emotionally worked up. It's very hard to truly listen and hear what the other party is saying when we're in this state. On top of that, intense emotion can skew our thinking and cloud our judgment. Know when to set the subject aside, in order to allow some time to cool off.
7. Be open to the possibility that you may be wrong.
Even when someone has worked on their particular craft for decades, there's still likely room for them to learn something new. How much moreso, when dealing with highly complex and fluid situations, is there room for us to learn? Likewise, there's the possibility that we could be wrong about some things, too. Maybe the information we're relying on is inaccurate; or maybe it's accurate but incomplete. Maybe we're only seeing things from one angle while missing others. Or, perhaps we're seeing several things at once, but failing to fully connect the dots between them.
The further we need to step outside of ourselves and need to rely on external information being provided to us, particularly when we're outside our area of expertise, the more room there is for us to err in our reasoning and conclusions. No single person knows everything there is to know; be open to the possibility that you could be wrong about some things.
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