Dale Carnegie, in his classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People, cites an article that offers some helpful suggestions for how to handle disagreements in healthy ways (pp. 114-115):
- Welcome the disagreement. Remember the slogan, “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.
- Distrust your first instinctive impression. Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.
- Control your temper. Remember, you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.
- Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.
- Look for areas of agreement. When you have heard your opponents out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.
- Be honest. Look for areas where you can admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.
- Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully. And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say: “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
- Thank your opponents sincerely for their interest. Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents into friends.
- Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem. Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear.
These are excellent, and I can personally attest that they really work–in the home, at work, wherever you encounter disagreement. I’m struck by how how hard these nine tips are to conduct over social media–which, unfortunately, are the main forums for public discourse. No wonder we’re going backward as a society in our collective ability to engage in healthy ways that promote unity and growth. I’m thankful for solid models who refuse to stoop to schoolyard tactics. They’re inspiring.