This very intense, very intelligent guy startled me by saying something I never had heard before.
He interrupted a vigorous argument with me by saying. “You know, Jim, I see your point now. I agree with you. You’re right.”
I was beyond surprised. Why did he do that?
I’ve thought about that conversation often, and it has changed my basic thinking about why and how to disagree. I now see that the man understood argument in its finest sense, as an opportunity to jointly seek truth and value.
At first look, this idea may seem ridiculous. But if you put aside conventional thinking, it changes the entire perspective.
Some people set out to win all their arguments. Some never win any. Many, perhaps most, rarely argue at all.
Thoughtful people disagree with all of them. They know that all three types – those who dominate, those who lose the battles and those who avoid engagement entirely – are missing important opportunities. None of the three really know how to reap the benefits of constructive interaction amid differences. They misunderstand what argument can be and what it can do.
When you argue properly, everybody wins. All involved are enriched and empowered.
Done properly, verbal disagreement has immense value.
No one is fully right all the time, and truth can be revealed when points of view are presented and contested. Vigorous engagement over strongly held views helps us see greater distances and develop deeper understanding.
It starts with attitude – why you are arguing.
This is where the win/lose thing must be understood. If you are disagreeing as a competition, or to punish the other person, then a mutual outcome is off the table. That is a different kind of exchange.
Similarly, the arousal of excessive anger, fear, shame or other negative emotion can make a useful outcome very difficult, if not impossible. There will be scars.
Behaviors such as sarcasm, insult, attack questions and similar tactics can “win” the moment, but the relationship will pay the price.
Sometimes we don’t know why we’re arguing, because we got into this situation without a lot of thought. Some criticism or careless word can trigger a spontaneous response . . . and you’re off to the races.
Avoiding the thoughtless remark that ignites unnecessary disagreement requires discipline. Working to develop the habit of verbal discipline is a worthwhile investment of time and effort.
Similarly, thoughtful management of workplace conversations can prevent unforced errors and ensure that dangerous moments are detected and navigated successfully. Relationships are very situational, and it can be seriously damaging to behave in the workplace context with the freedom we enjoy at home.
A positive attitude also directs proactive development of the skills of successful relationships – starting with attention and listening.
Each person we work with, or come into contact with in any other setting, has unique values, likes and dislikes. When we focus attention on those people rather than ourselves, we are positioned to most successfully relate to them.
The way we behave in such moments should be primarily directed outward: We ask constructive and encouraging questions, we listen attentively and we are alert to nonverbal signals.
When the context is one of disagreement, all the same factors pertain – only more so.
If we don’t know the other person well, caution is the byword. When there is an existing connection, we keep its limits and possibilities in mind as we proceed.
Every moment we spend with another person affects the growth or erosion of our relationship with that person. Common sense and courtesy tell us to handle the occasion constructively.
When we conclude a disagreement with respect intact – whether or not we're now together on the substance – it’s a win/win.
SEE ALSO: How to Argue
SEE ALSO: How to Argue