After blogging for the last seven years learning how to navigate through disagreements has been a real learning process for me. Here are 13 tips for learning how to listen well and disagree in a cordial manner.
1 – Make sure you really are disagreeing. A small percentage of disagreements are people who agree but just aren’t communicating well. Sometimes people talk past each other. Other times people are emphasizing different aspects of the same point and are really just wanting the person on the other end to say, “Ok, I see what you are saying too” when the honest truth is they don’t disagree at all.
2 – Be a learner. If you think you have all the answers, expect many disagreements and expect them to go poorly. There is little more frustrating than discussing things with someone who can never say they are wrong or that they have learned something from the other person. Be the person who can admit when they missed it.
3 – Start with a healthy goal. That goal is not to prove your own right-ness, as tempting as that is. In my opinion, the real goal of engaging in difficult topics is to come to a better understanding of reality. If someone can help you do that, even through disagreement, be appreciative. If both parties are seeking to come to a better understanding of something it sets a positive and healthy tone of mutual respect and mutual purpose that is missing when our purposes are self-serving.
4 – Exhibit humility. That means admit when you are wrong and don’t let pride get in the way. Pride is a roadblock to progress.
5 – Point out what the other person is getting right. That advances the conversation and lets the other person know you really are listening. It will often make them more willing to point out the strengths of your side of the discussion.
6 – Deal with one thing at a time. It is hard to have a conversation when each new point comes along with 15 other points and 7 new questions. Deal with one thing until you settle it as best you can and then move on to the next piece.
7 – Know when to “cut bait”. There are times when the conversation just cannot advance in a productive way. That can be frustrating. It is better to end the conversation in a respectful manner than to continue on and air your aggravation and make a fool out of yourself in the process.
8 – Read and re-read your comments before you post them. It is hard to hear “tone” in text. So make sure your words are unmistakably respectful.
9 – Avoid personal attacks and stick to the issues. Personal attacks may give you the leverage to shut the other person down but that is cheap.
10 – Get clarification. Ask questions rather than jump to conclusions. It is amazing how much people can interpret into what you say. Before you make a million assumptions, just ask if that is what they are saying. People will argue against points that aren’t even being made.
11 – Assume the best of someone until they prove otherwise.
12 – Keep your integrity. Remember, what is said online is typically public and will be seen by others.
13 – Know when the online/public medium is not the place to have the discussion. Often email, facebook private message or the phone works so much better. There are some things that don’t need to be plastered all over the internet…a lesson many have yet to learn!