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Being disagreeable June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Politics, Work.

One of the great freedoms we have – and often overlook – is our ability to disagree with one another, especially on political issues.  If I think the president is doing a terrific or lousy job, I can say so.  If I think a particular policy is good or bad, I can say so.  No one is obligated to listen to me, but I can still hold my own opinion and speak it openly.  You may hold an opinion different from mine, and you have the same freedom to express it that I do.  We can disagree with one another, discuss our differences, and choose whether or not we want to change our individual positions.

There are a few ground rules about disagreeing that would behoove many of us to adopt.  For example:

  • It’s ok to disagree, and words like ‘argument’, ‘position’ and ‘debate’ are not dirty words.  Consider discussing a disagreement with someone as a way to help you grow as a person and a way to build a deeper relationship with the other person.
  • You and I are sometimes wrong – discussing a disagreement with others can help us see why.
  • Remember how name calling didn’t solve any problems in third grade?  It still doesn’t in adulthood. 
  • Your argument is not correct just because:
    • You can surround yourself with people who agree with you.
    • More people agree with you than agree with the other person.
    • One or more famous people agree with you
    • You have a statistic that says you’re correct

Here are some suggestions for having a conversation with someone with whom you disagree.

  1. Know what your own position on the issue is and why. 
  2. Make it your job during the conversation to listen, understand, and internalize what the other person’s position is.  Restate their argument to them to ensure you understand correctly.
  3. Don’t interrupt.
  4. When you’re tempted to respond with a sentence that starts with “But …”, “No …”, “Wrong …” or something similar, try to think of another way to make your point that is less likely to put the other person in a defensive position.
  5. It is ok to say you don’t know the answer to a question, and that doesn’t make you wrong, but you should make it your duty to find out the answer as soon as possible.
  6. It is ok to ask the other person for a source of a fact that they share.  People will frequently say they heard something on the news, but it is really something they heard on an opinion show, and it may not be correct.  Make sure you know and disclose the source of any facts you share.
  7. Try to understand the underlying goal of the other person.  He or she may be trying to accomplish something that you agree with but suggesting a method of doing it that you disagree with.  Figure out if you disagree with the goal or with the tactic and discuss accordingly.
  8. Your position on an issue probably carries both benefits and shortcomings.  Communicate and acknowlege both.
  9. If you’re speaking to someone who is belligerent and unwilling to treat you with the same respect with which you are treating them, acknowlege the other person’s views, express your desire to make the conversation bidirectional, and if necessary, gracefully exit the conversation.
  10. Thank the other person for sharing and being open with you and walk away as friends.  Both of you benefit from having deeper interpersonal communication.


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