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How to Be Tolerant of Others

Tolerating Others in Difficult SituationsDeveloping a More Tolerant OutlookArticle SummaryQuestions & AnswersRelated ArticlesReferences

This article was co-authored by Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS. Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wisconsin specializing in Addictions and Mental Health. She provides therapy to people who struggle with addictions, mental health, and trauma in community health settings and private practice. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University in 2011.

There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you find it hard to tolerate someone’s actions or words. Try to understand where each person is coming from, and avoid making it into a personal battle. You can try to develop a more tolerant outlook by learning about different people, developing confidence in yourself, and coming to appreciate difference.



Tolerating Others in Difficult Situations

  1. 1

    Try to empathize. A good first step to tolerating others in a tricky situation is making a conscious effort to empathize with him, and trying to see things from his perspective. You may have very different backgrounds and experiences to draw on, so what seems obvious to you might seem strange or alien to someone else.

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    Ask for an explanation. If you are talking to someone and they say something that you find hard to accept, you can figure out the other person's perspective without being intolerant or aggressive. Try to gain a better understanding of someone else’s views by asking him or her to explain it to you.
    • You might say something like, “Ok, tell me more about that. What makes you think that?”
    • If you do this you are being tolerant by not dismissing him or her outright and you are attempting to understand something that you find difficult.[1]
    • Remember that tolerance does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior.[2]
  3. 3

    Ignore your differences. One way to deal with a difficult situation is just to try to ignore your differences. This is a more negative kind of tolerance than learning to accept and value difference, but it can be useful. To do this you would have to avoid certain topics of conversation, or swiftly change the subject when necessary.

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    Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. If you find yourself in a conversation with someone and you are struggling to maintain civility, it can help to avoid making accusations or assumptions about the person you are talking to. You can do this by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This can help to de-escalate any personal animosity and may help you be more open to each other’s viewpoints.
    • For example, if you are talking about schools giving teenagers contraception, you might say “I think it’s sensible for schools to make contraceptives available.” This is a tolerant way of expressing your opinion.
    • Avoid making “you” statements such as, “You’re stupid for thinking that schools shouldn’t give out contraception.”[3]
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    Address a conflict. If you are struggling to empathize or ignore the situation, and you are finding it hard to tolerate, you can try to address it to reach some kind of resolution. If you are good friends with someone and you don’t want this intolerance to de-rail your friendship, it’s worth making the effort to find a solution together. Everyone involved will need to be prepared to make an effort and participate fully.
    • You should start by calmly describing what you find offensive or intolerable in each other’s behavior or views. For example, “I don’t agree with your stance on gun control.”
    • You will then need to try to get a better understanding of each other’s cultural perceptions. You might do this by asking something like, “What experiences led you to develop your ideas about gun control?”
    • You should then explain how the issue would be dealt with in each other’s culture or view. You might start by stating what you think the ideal situation might be and then allow the other person to do the same. For example, you might start by saying something like, “I think that we should make it harder to obtain guns because…”
    • Then you can begin to negotiate a way forward that takes account of and respects your differences. This will be easier if there is a misunderstanding of each other’s behavior, than if you hold more or less incompatible views. For example, you might start by saying something like, “While I don’t agree with your views, I do have a better understanding of them. Now that I know the reasons behind your beliefs, it is easier for me to understand your point of view and I am willing to move forward.”


Developing a More Tolerant Outlook

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    Value difference. An important part of developing a more tolerant outlook is learning to appreciate and value difference. People who value difference and diversity are generally more tolerant of others, and are less stressed by ambiguity and uncertainty. Intolerance can effectively narrow down and simplify an ever-changing world, making it easier to comprehend because it ignores the variety and complexity.
    • Adopting a more open-minded outlook and exposing yourself to views and cultures that are different from your own can help you to become more tolerant.
    • Talk to people you don’t know, and read newspapers or websites that you don’t normally look at.
    • Talk to people of a variety of ages and cultures.[4]
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    Accept uncertainty. Research has shown that intolerance of ambiguity or the inability to accept uncertainty, are key personality traits of people who are less tolerant of others. Research conducted on a national level has shown that countries whose people are more accepting of uncertainty tend to be more accepting of dissent, tolerant of deviance, less risk averse and more positive towards young people.
    • You can try to become more accepting of uncertainty by thinking more about answers than questions.
    • The idea is that if you are always focused on finding an answer you begin to think that there is only one answer, and the answer is constant and unchanging.
    • There are often many different answers to the same question, and if you stay open-minded and curious you will become more aware of the differences and more tolerant of this ambiguity.[5]
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    Learn about other people and cultures. A good way to become a more tolerant person is to educate yourself more deeply about other people and cultures. Often when people display a lack of tolerance for somebody, it is in part because they feel alienated or uncertain about what the other person is doing or saying. Take the time to learn about different cultures and belief systems. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but always do this in a respectful and polite way.
    • For example, you could find out about different ways of celebrating significant events.
    • You can also expose yourself to new experiences to demystify things that might have seemed strange or alien to you before.[6] `
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    Analyze your intolerant feelings. Understanding the context and roots of your intolerant feelings may help you to recognize and challenge them. Think about why you've been judgmental toward others in the past. Were you raised to believe that certain people are inferior to you, or have you had negative experiences? Diagnose why you feel a certain way about a certain group of people.
    • For example, perhaps you grew up in a household where it was common to hear derogatory comments about people of a certain race or religion. Or, perhaps you had some negative experiences with someone from a different race or religion and those experiences have contributed to your ideas about those people.
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    Foster your own self-esteem. Sometimes people who don’t feel happy in themselves or have low or negative self-esteem are those most likely to be intolerant of others. This intolerance can be a reflection of how somebody feels about himself. If you feel more secure and confident in yourself you may find you are more open-minded and tolerant of other people.[7]

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    Think a difficult thought. One interesting way to try to become more tolerant is to practice dealing with thoughts that you find intolerable. This is a technique that psychologists use, and it can be a useful way to address intolerance. It works on the principle that it’s hard to maintain a difficult thought, and that trying to do this will help you learn to handle difficult situations.
    • We tend to flee from or avoid difficult thoughts, which can lead to an intolerant, impatient or unsympathetic outlook.
    • Pick a difficult thought and spend at least ten seconds each day thinking about it.
    • For example, if the idea of changing your religion is intolerable to you, then you might think “I am going to renounce my religion and become a Buddhist (or another religion that is different from your own).”
    • Then analyze what happens next. Do you have a physical reaction? What are the next thoughts that come into you mind?[8]

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question

    Can one be in love and not tolerate his or her partner?

    You can be in love and not tolerate something specific about your partner - particularly if they're mistreating you or hurting themselves. You would certainly tolerate the person, though - not just tolerate, but accept and embrace. If you're always finding things wrong with your partner, or don't like being around them, then it's probably not really love.

  • Question

    Are there specific tips that can help with being tolerant of autistic people?

    Regardless of labels, be nice to the person in question and accept them as they are. Get to know them. If they need help with something, offer it. If kids at school are bullying them, intervene and stand up for them. The individual will feel closer to you, and as your relationship grows, you'll learn to value them (not just tolerate them) for who they are.

  • Question

    How can I be more tolerant of someone who is too clingy and cheerful all the time?

    Just understand that they are different than you are. No two people are 100% the same, so just accept who that person is. And remember, it's nice to have happy, cheerful people around when things get bad in your life.

  • Question

    How can I learn to be tolerant of ignorant people?

    First, what brings you to think of others as ignorant? There might be an issue of arrogance involved, or it might be an accurate assessment but if you find everyone ignorant, then it's arrogance and fallacious thinking. Second, consider how much confirmation bias you're relying on, meaning how often does what something a person does confirm your own already existing negative, fuming or irritable outlook on the matter? Third, they may not be ignorant. They may just be inexperienced and looking to you for guidance or modeling appropriate behavior.

  • Question

    How can I cope with a stingy friend?

    You just need to find out or simply ask them in a tactful way why they behave like that. You may just need to accept this as part of their personality.

  • Question

    What are some attributes of tolerance?

    Do not act upset when one does not think like you. Listen and watch. Ask questions with out judging. You will learn something new and look at a topic differently.

  • Question

    How do I know, as a disabled person, when to ask for help and when to just let it go?

    If you can just let it go, do that. It's always a good idea to try and exercise your independence. In general, if you can't resolve it yourself after five minutes or so, ask for help while you're still calm.

  • Question

    I am searching for a suitable girl for my 32-year-old son. This task itself leaves me with my tolerance level very low. I am unable to cope with small issues. What do I do?

    Being aware of cultural differences, I do feel I must point out it is best for your son to find his own girlfriend himself. She won't be marrying you, after all; you won't be part of their relationship, and she shouldn't need your approval. But again, cultures are different. Keep in mind that you only need to find one suitable girl. There are many, so all you need is to keep your spirits up until the first of all those suitable girls comes along.

    Tom De Backer

    Top Answerer

  • Question

    How can I be more tolerant of a person who insists on talking over 50% of the total time when our group of 6 people meets informally?

    Try asking them politely to let the others get a word in. Tell them how you feel. If they don't listen, form a new group without them.

  • Question

    How do I teach children tolerance and acceptance?

    Expose them to different cultures (actual culture, not just a Chinese restaurant) at a young age. Teach them about history from a multicultural perspective.

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  • Remember the Golden Rule: "Treat others how you would like to be treated."
  • Accepting that people are different and looking for the positive in them helps us build an attitude of tolerance.
  • One's true perfection lies in their ability to know and accept their personal imperfections. Don't forget that anything is possible and you can achieve it.