Being tasked with the burden of figuring out which one of two friends is right in a dispute is a scenario worth avoiding.
Typically, what starts off as your neutral observation of an argument or dispute, turns into you being labeled as taking one side over the other. Once an interpretation of you taking sides is made by one of your respective friends, social balance is difficult to reestablish.
Though you’d rather not take a side in a dispute between two friends, you’d also like to be respective of the truth. The matter at hand may call for you to stand up for what’s (or who is) right, but doing so without hurting anyone’s feelings is a sensitive social task to perform.
This article is about navigating the social difficulties of judging a dispute between two friends.
The intention of this article is to arm you with an ability to stand up for what’s true without severing the relationships you’ve worked hard to build.
Protect Each Friend’s Time in Expressing Their Point of View
Though you may already understand that the things you say in response to hearing both friends’ arguments will set the tone for how well things go, your role as a listener is perhaps even more important. Specifically, the manner in which you listen to both friends is important; with an optimal early role to adopt being a guardian of time for each one to have their voice be heard.
The first thing that will establish a sense of fairness – notwithstanding how you react to each of their arguments – is a fair and equal listening process. In being cognizant of maintaining a fair balance between both lines of dialogue, you’ll set yourself up as a neutral entity from the get-go.
Even the most subtle differences in your act of listening to each friend express their position will establish a precedent for one of them to perceive you to be unfair down the line. The person whose argument you listen to less attentively will be likely to assume an underdog status, and act more aggressively in the points they yearn to communicate.
Your act of listening to each side with equal intent is thereby not only important to establish a fair battleground early on, but to also keep emotions at bay down the line. The simple manner in how you conduct yourself as you listen to both sides can either pay dividends or create disbalance in the later phases of the disagreement. As both of your friends in question feel that they’ve been thoroughly listened to by everyone involved, they’ll be ready to calmly transition to settling their differences in a fair and balanced way.
Granulate Wrongfulness so That It Can Be Attributed to Both
Though the general positions of each respective argument can be easily attributed as being right or wrong, the risk in being general with such attributions is communicating a feeling of unfairness. Heated arguments are seldom wholly about the overall positions on either side of the matter. Digging down to granular issues which either one of your friends latched their general discontent on to is an important step to take.
The summation of an argument between two friends is seldom optimal if you label one of them as right, one of them as wrong, and attempt to move on as if all is right in the world. Neither one will likely be fully right in their position and actions, or fully wrong. Combing through what each person feels the other did wrong is essential to do as a neutral party in the matter. Sympathize with what each individual feels the other did wrong, and dig down to the most granular points of those issues.
As you gain an understanding of the discrete points of contention each respective friend of yours raises, you can then begin to use your judgment in attributing accurate wrongfulness. Your attribution of wrongfulness should have clear boundaries, and should never be attributed to a person’s argument as a whole.
For instance, rather than saying:
“You shouldn’t be upset about John handing in the group assignment early, he asked the group beforehand.”
“You shouldn’t have been so harsh on John for handing in the group assignment early, he did run it by us beforehand.”
The subtle difference in granularity in the example above goes a long way. In both scenarios, the speaker would have addressed an individual’s response to John handing in the group assignment early. In the latter example however, the wrongfulness attributed to the subject would have been sectioned off to only include the method of their response, rather than the overall reason for it. It would be easier for that individual to live with the fact that their response may have been a little too harsh, rather than accepting the reason for their frustration as being wrong.
Be Lenient in Your Interpretation of Those Wrongdoings, but Protect the Victims’ Reactions
As you remain specific and disciplined in attributing wrongfulness amid a disagreement between two friends, you’ll have to strategize how you act after doing so. Even the person whose argument is completely in the right can commit discrete acts of wrongdoing in the midst of presenting a generally solid point of view.
Once you label the respective wrongdoings of each member of a disagreement at hand, it’s best to establish a general context of leniency surrounding wrongdoings as a whole. Make it okay to admit wrongfulness by not being afraid to label when one friend is wrong in aspects of a disagreement and then being lenient in moving past that wrongdoing.
Continuing the group assignment example above:
“Your reaction is understandable though, as you didn’t get the message John sent prior to handing it in. It’s not a big deal.”
Establishing a general comfort surrounding the admittance of being wrong will lubricate the interaction as a whole. You’ll do well to kick off that sense of comfortable vulnerability by being direct in times when you think one or the other is incorrect in their assumptions or points. As your friends are taken back by your tendency to not play it safe down the middle, your lenient approach to forgiving their wrongdoing will cement their comfort with being labeled wrong.
This cycle of honesty and leniency should be used indiscriminately, but in a targeted manner. As mentioned earlier, granularity is your friend when you’re assigning wrongdoing. Be granular but direct. Then establish a forgiving leniency toward your friends’ respective mistakes.
As you label aspects of the disagreement both friends are guilty of being wrong in, establishing and sharing a sense of forgiveness for those mistakes is a goal to strive for. Though your leniency as a neutral observer matters as it stands on its own, there is even more value in encouraging your contending friends to adopt that same sense of leniency from you.