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Agreeable disagreement

I have a friend who hosts the Thanksgiving gathering for her family every year. She has a ground rule: No discussions about politics. I don’t know how she enforces the rule, but she knows from experience that politics always leads to tempers flaring and turns what should be a sweet and sumptuous occasion into a sour and bitter affair.

Do you have a similar rule for your family gatherings? Is it just politics or is religion a forbidden topic as well? What about the hot button issue of dressing vs stuffing?

It’s a shame we have to ban certain topics because disagreement can be beneficial and healthy. Unfortunately, our lizard brains want to inject anger and impulse into any discussion where our beliefs are challenged. And it’s getting worse.

The good news is, we can reverse the trend, have open and honest exchanges, and bring reason and civility back into our discourse with each other. But we can’t rely on instinct and emotion to do it. We have to take a thoughtful, deliberate approach.

So in the hope of bringing peace to the table, here are some common sense tips on how to disagree well.

Anger Monitor

While there is nothing wrong with feeling angry, it is rarely helpful in an argument. When not held in check anger can drive us to lash out with hurtful and inappropriate responses.

Did your mother ever tell you to wait ten seconds before responding to someone in anger? That’s good advice, though I would say ten minutes is better. Ten hours – better still.

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?

Pick your battles

Uncle Bob says the hometown team’s coach needs to be fired after they lost 45-6 last night, but you know that’s a terrible idea. Is this a major issue worth fighting for? Why or why not? What will happen if you state your contrary opinion?

It is also helpful to practice some emotional intelligence and gauge the level of the other person’s emotion. Are they getting tee’d up? There should really be no reason you can’t have a discussion about the coach, but if you know that Uncle Bob feels very strongly about his belief and may take it personally if you disagree, maybe it’s not a battle worth having at this point.

You don’t have to show up for every battle you are invited to.

The couch

No, I am not referring to the after-dinner snooze couch, but couching your arguments to be less confrontational. Instead of expressing your thoughts as facts (even if you know them to be true), try adding, “in my experience,” or “from what I’ve seen,” or “in my opinion.”

You could say, “Firing the coach is the worst idea ever.” But it might be better and more accurate to say, “From what I’ve seen, I don’t think firing the coach at this point is the solution.”

Another helpful couching technique is to avoid using absolutes, like “all,” “every,” “always” or “never.” Leave some room for both sides by using words like “most,” “usually,” or “in many cases.”

Common ground

Even if you disagree with the person’s overall sentiment, there may be a nugget of underlying truth you can highlight before expressing your opposing viewpoint. “You’re right that the coach made some questionable decisions last night and there need to be some adjustments, but…”

You can also gently steer the discussion in a different direction. “I agree that certainly was a poor showing last night. By the way, what did you think about the other team’s quarterback?”

Think well and be well.

- Steve Haffner

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