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How to Disagree Well

Four Things to Keep in Mind during a Disagreement

  1. Respect

Both you and the other person should be respectful and feel respected at all times during an argument. If you can feel the tension rising in the room (e.g., escalated voices, inappropriate language) use your words to bring attention to this. It might be more constructive to walk away and return to the issue at a later time.

  1. Uncover the Real Issue

Instead of focusing on the surface-level issues, try to acknowledge and understand the underlying issues present. This might help avoid repetitive arguments. For example, if your group members constantly mention your tardiness to every meeting, it might not be just because they can’t start without everyone present, but more so that they feel their time is being disrespected and that you feel other things are more important than your group project. By understanding this, you can explain why you were late and how you plan to demonstrate respect and commitment to the group.

  1. Collaborate

Many people stress the importance of compromising, yet in a compromise, no one seems to walk away happy. A compromise usually involves finding some middle ground between conflicting ideas, so that everyone gets some of what they want but no one is fully satisfied. Collaboration, on the other hand, is working with each other to understand the underlying reasons for why we want what we say we want. Taking the time to explore the full range of possible outcomes that will meet people’s underlying interests (but not necessarily their originally stated positions) will bring you closer to resolving the problem. Let’s say you and your roommate are trying to decide how to split the bedroom space. A compromise would be dividing the room exactly in half. However, because you study better next to the window and your roommate wants her bed lofted, neither of you feel comfortable in your spaces. If you explore these underlying interests, together you could come up with a range of possible room layouts where both of these interests are met!

  1. Choose Your Battles

You can’t agree on everything. Focus on what matters, and let the small things go. Ask yourself how important the issue really is. Are you compromising your beliefs or morals? If yes, it's important that you effectively and respectfully explain why you think your values are impacted and how this makes you feel. If not, maybe this is a time for a trade-off. Also, consider why the other person has a different view of the situation and outcome. Why are they upset? What does the issue look like from their point of view? Is there a way your behaviour can change to positively impact them?

Author: Khushi Desai

University of Michigan

How to have a constructive argument

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