Moving Beyond Conflict: How to Get Along Without Going Along

Finding the balance between respecting another view and abandoning our principles entirely



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by Tamara Paton in Interpersonal

As I write this, the results of the 2016 US Presidential election have been known for a few hours. I’m emotional, in shock and struggling to focus on my work — the work I do in Canada, outside the official reach of US politics. Despite my Canadian citizenship and residency, I’m reeling.

My social media feeds are full of friends sharing my dismay. Yet, some in my network are celebrating, calling the outcome a most welcome result.

Wait, what? I have friends — people I like and respect — who voted for Donald Trump? How am I supposed to look beyond this horrifying character flaw?

I have to admit that my first reaction was a mix of denial and defence. I put the misled voters out of my mind. Then, I mentally immersed myself in the 60 million Americans who feel as I do. For a moment, I even considered “unfollowing” those who are openly celebrating their victory today. Anyone who flaunts their vote for a misogynist is not worthy of my friendship, right?

In my attempt to evolve as a human being, however, I’ve not succumbed to those instincts.

Distancing ourselves from those with opposing views is not productive. My board work depends on my ability to listen openly, find common understanding, and collaborate. If I won’t do that on Facebook, how can I possibly expect it from my board colleagues?

Realistically speaking, moving beyond conflict is hard. Simply deciding isn’t sufficient. And there is a balance to be found between respecting another view and abandoning our principles entirely.

How do we move beyond disagreement to a common good? How do we get along with others without going along?

Regroup away from the discussion

As a first step this morning, I shut down social media. Spending time with those on “my side” might have felt validating, but doing so is like eating empty calories when I’m ravenously hungry.

As I’ve written previously, my first step in navigating any disappointment is a limited amount of time for reflection. I’m turning today into an opportunity to clarify my values and how I will take action. Today, US Senator Cory Booker suggested that “the searing heat of defeat reveals what we are made of.” Right now, I’m more committed than ever to being an informed, collaborative leader who holds her power without apology. I’ve never hidden my feminist values, and I just ordered them on a T-shirt.

Improve your understanding

When we look at another person’s actions, we can’t see the thinking that preceded a decision. Even when people agree, they likely reached their conclusions in very different ways.

As the sting of an event eases, I often find myself begrudgingly empathetic to an opposing point of view. Letting go of my hold on being “right,” my mind wanders to what fear or assumptions may have motivated a colleague. As author Leo Babauta observed today, we have each personally experienced what the “other side” is going through.

“The results of the election represent the feelings of millions of other people — they speak in some way for our fellow human beings. We have each felt these emotions: feeling left behind, feeling frustrated, distrusting, powerless, angry, hopeful for change, disliking the change that we see.”

As much as I resist the idea, I can’t ignore the emotions underlying an opposing view. Once I’ve accepted as much, I can sketch a logical argument that supports an opinion that I don’t share intuitively. Ideally, a fence-mending conversation follows. It turns out that what a person meant by their action can be very different from what I initially perceived their action to mean. The fact remains that it is hard to hate people up close.

Consider your long-term future

I once faced a painful defeat on a board that I chaired. I didn’t agree with the board’s decision, but I was willing to live with the outcome. The nasty, backroom methods the victors used, however, were truly troubling for me. When I worked through the five questions I ask clients as they consider leaving a board, every answer confirmed that it was time for me to go.

If you find yourself at a similar crossroads, it’s worth weighing your options carefully. Your time is a finite commodity, so it’s only smart to share it with those who truly deserve it. Conversely, taking your ball home in a huff may be rash. It really comes down to whether you can trust your colleagues going forward, beginning with a shared reframing of what the future holds.


Admittedly, my first thoughts this morning were not what one would call measured. I said something about stupid, racist, misogynistic asshats (and the profanity got worse from there). As I calm down, I’m not going to let this outcome hijack my rights and responsibilities. I have a right to express myself, choose happiness, stand up for others, and dream bigger than I did yesterday. Being human means dealing with victories and setbacks, in elections and at the board table.

I won’t condone the bullying, deceit and and violence that I’ve seen in recent months. But I also won’t pretend that missteps were one-sided. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is precisely where we will find common ground.

Thank you for reading! If you found this post useful, please click the “like” button on LinkedIn and/or share it with others in your network. Doing so helps my work reach others and would mean so much to me.




Moving Beyond Conflict: How to Get Along Without Going Along

by Tamara time to read: 4 min