In a world of political division and strong feelings, it is not hard for us to get angry when we disagree with something we read, hear, or witness on the news. And oftentimes, it can be the people we are close to –   a friend, colleague, or maybe even a family member who says something that frustrates us worse.  This is common and it happens to all of us; it’s nothing we can control.

But you can control what you do next.

In fact, what you do during the next 5 seconds after a comment is made might significantly change the course of your relationship with that person. It’s OK to feel angry when you hear something that you disagree with, but it’s very important to be still and carefully decide what you will do next.  You have 3 major options:

Option 1: Push Back

There are multiple forms of pushing back, but all of them involve you telling the other person that what they said is wrong.  Maybe you let your anger consume you and yell at the person or say something hurtful.  Maybe you stay calm and lay out a carefully planned counter argument. Either way, you are extremely unlikely to convince the other person that you are right and they are wrong.  Worse yet, if you are wrong, you are almost certainly not going to discover that.  The result of this conversation is that sides are taken and division grows.  Even the “agree to disagree” ending realistically damages the relationship.  

Option 2: Say Nothing

You’ve probably heard this advice before.  If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing.  The problem is that you can’t unhear what you heard.  If something said upsets you and you say nothing, you’re likely going to remember that and it will shut down your relationship with the person.  The other problem is that sometimes things just need to be said.  Silence is often taken as agreement.  Silence makes people think that more people agree with them even if most people do not.  

Option 3: Be Curious

When you hear someone say something that upsets you, why not take a moment and then ask a question?  Ask the person to unpack what they just said.  Ask them why they feel that way.  Seek to understand the other person’s position, even if it seems extreme or something you cannot fathom.  If the other person is showing a lot of emotion, sprinkle in a little empathy before asking a question.

Again, there are three options when recognizing you are angry or upset by the actions and words of others. We encourage you to choose wisely.