Women Lead Pendidikan Seks
April 15, 2015

Don't Tell Me to Calm Down! How to Disagree Agreeably

Madge is now taking questions from Twitter. This week: how to articulate your distress or disagreement without someone telling you to "calm down".

by Magdalene
Calm Down Thumbnail, Magdalene

This is a question from a tweep. Send Madge your questions through @the_magdalene on Twitter.
Hi Madge,
How do I articulate my distress and disagreement without someone telling me to "calm down"? #heeeeelp
Ugh, I hate it when people tell me that, especially when all I’m doing is stating my opinion passionately. This often happens in the social media realm in Indonesia, where people still frown on those who opine too much. The thing I find offensive is that:

  1. People treat an issue that is important to you as unimportant, and that your impassioned opinion is silly.
  2. People would rather leave things unsaid than having someone expressing their opinion to challenge something in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.    

So when someone’s being patronizing like that, whether directly or online, just say or write this to them, “I’m not aware that disagreeing with something (or expressing my opinion) calls for the need to calm down. But if you think I need to calm down, let me tell you calmly, that you should stop patronizing me.”

Or for a more extreme version, in an offline situation, when someone says that to you, just look at them and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, did I scare you?” And say nothing while continuing to look at them intensely. 
On the other hand, it is also a good moment to do a little self-check to see that perhaps you’re not getting your message across because you’re being too loud and combative, a combination that never advances a conversation or debate.
So, to articulate your disagreement or distress, do these:

  1. Express your opinion respectfully. In real life, check the volume of your voice and your body gesture.
  2. Focus on the problem, not the person. Avoid combative remarks such as “you’re wrong!” or “what do you know?” And never start name-calling or getting personal. The old sages were true when they said to do this check before saying something: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
  3. Turn the negative into positive. Say something like, “Interesting, but my opinion differs. Let me just explains where I’m coming from.” Or “Really? I have a different take on this.
  4. Take “time-out” if you feel angry or overwhelmed by negative emotions. Take a few breaths before you next say or write, or maybe suggest that the issue be left for a while and revisited later, while you let your thoughts marinate. ~M

Got a burning question about something? Send it to [email protected] with the subject "Ask Madge" or tweet your question to @the_magdalene.