How to Keep a Disagreement from Becoming an Argument

It’s graduation time, and I usually give family and friends’ graduates a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I also try to read this book daily to get fresh ideas on human relationships. Being an Irishman (ouch), I value the below excerpt on how to keep a disagreement from becoming an argument.

  1. Welcome the disagreement – “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.
  2. Distrust your first instinctive impression – Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction as you may be you at your worst, not your best.
  3. Control your temper – Remember that you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.
  4. Listen first – Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.
  5. Look for areas of agreement – When you have heard your opponent out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.
  6. Be honest – Look for areas where you could admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.
  7. Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully – And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  8. Thank your opponents sincerely for their interest – Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help, and you may turn your opponents into friends.
  9. Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem – Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting ask yourself some hard questions:
    • Could my opponent be right? Partly right? Truth or merit in their position or argument? My reaction to relieve the problem or just relieve any frustration? My reaction drives my opponents further away or draws them closer to me? My reaction elevates the estimation good people have of me? Win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I’m quiet will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation really an opportunity for me?

Carnegie quotes a famous opera singer who sums up this approach very well, “When one person yells the other should listen. When two people yell, there’s no communication.”

Here’s to more agreements than arguments in the second half of 2011. Thanks again, Dale.

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