7 tips for disagreeing productively

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Whether at home or at work, disagreements are unavoidable. Unfortunately, it’s easy for them to get heated, too.

“Disagreements may be inevitable from time to time, but they don’t have to become disruptive or harmful to your relationships,” says Derek Laymon, an organizational learning consultant for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “You just have to approach them mindfully, so you don’t lose sight of the big picture.”

Here’s what you need to know about how to guide the conversation in a way that can produce better—and healthier—outcomes for both parties.

Tips for your next disagreement

Derek: The heart of productive disagreement is respect. Focus on maintaining respect for the other person throughout the conversation.

1. Have good intentions.

As you approach a disagreement, remember to stay positive. You’re here to talk out a problem and hopefully come to a good resolution. Try to be open-minded about an opportunity to talk about both of your ideas.

2. Consider your delivery.

No matter how important your message or point is, your delivery is just as important. It’s easy to get impassioned about something that you care deeply about, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are communicating with another person. Chances are, you want to preserve a long-term relationship with this coworker or family member.

3. Focus on the facts.

Avoid making a disagreement personal. Resist the urge to launch personal attacks, engage in name-calling, or make personal criticisms. Instead, focus on the facts.

4. Use “I” statements.

Reframe the way that you state certain points. For example, you might have better luck with statements that begin “I feel” or “I believe,” rather than statements that begin with “You.” Steer clear of saying things like “You always” or “You never.”

5. Don’t focus on “winning” the argument.

Consider the ultimate goal of the conversation. What do you hope to achieve? If you just want to win the argument or disagreement, you are probably focusing on an outcome that won’t be helpful for both parties. Instead, calmly express genuine concern about the matter and your hope for a resolution.

6. Listen.

It’s appropriate to present your position, but you need to let the other person have their say, too. Actively listen to what they tell you. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants their feelings or position to be acknowledged and respected.

7. Ask about the other person’s concerns

The other person may be feeling defensive. Experts suggest that you can lower the temperature by asking the other person to clarify or explain more about their negative feelings. This will also help them to feel they are being heard. Convey that you are receptive to hearing what they have to say.

What happens when the other person doesn’t fight fair?

Derek: It’s entirely possible that you will engage in a future disagreement in a healthy, productive way, only to encounter someone who won’t. That can be frustrating. But while you can’t change their behavior, you can model good behavior and hope that the other person responds.

And if you feel that a disagreement is going off the rails, it may be time to call someone else in to help, or it may be time to take a break.

WellTuned: How to talk about your emotions at work

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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