When You Debate Or Disagree

by Stephen Boyd | October 31, 2004

Presidential debates are on our minds. Who won? Who lost? Why did he lose or win? We are unlikely to be on television to debate or discuss issues that will change the world, but we all have situations where there is a debate of issues or opportunities to resolve conflict. Whether you are discussing a new proposal in your department or deciding where to spend Thanksgiving with your family, here are some ways to ensure a positive outcome for you.

  • Listen throughout what the other person is saying. Often when we disagree we stop listening in the middle of the conversation to think of our argument to counteract what he or she is saying. Thus we may miss a key ingredient of the opposing position.
  • Look and sound pleasant. We all like a pleasant attitude and tone even in a possibly unpleasant discussion. You want to be polite and concerned about the other person. Even though you may disagree strongly, have a pleasant look. Don't fold your arms and slouch, for this closes you off from the other person. Use gestures that are toward the speaker and keep an open posture. Keep that pleasant demeanor while the other person is talking, especially because others will be watching your reaction.
  • Seek more information. Before stating your case, get all the information you can. When the other person finishes speaking, pause and ask a follow-up question to the person's point. An appropriate question on many issues might be, "What other variables might affect the choice we make?" Or "Why is that important to you?"
  • Find a point of agreement and start your discussion there. For example, all of you want to make a profit in the company or you all want to enjoy Thanksgiving with the family. Start with those affirmations and go from there. Even if you soon reach an impasse, when you go back to your point of agreement you will not go back as far as you did the first time. By going back to your point of agreement, you will be more likely to keep discussing the issues rather than creating a sharp division.
  • Don't be afraid of debating or disagreeing. These communication situations can be productive and you will learn new and perhaps better solutions to problems because of your discussions.
  • About the Author

    Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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