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Pick a topic, any topic. It doesn’t matter if it’s something political, sports-related, or someone’s thoughts on the outcome of an important meeting at work — the odds are high that we will disagree with each other’s point of view. It’s inevitable, and while it is perfectly OK to have different points of view, the problem with today’s brand of communicating in these scenarios is our inability to be civil about it.

We’d rather state our opinion on something, regardless of whether or not it’s based on legitimate or made-up facts, and have it widely accepted as gospel by everyone around us. It doesn’t seem to matter what others think.

If I say the sky is blue, but you swear it’s red, you’re against me. 

If I voted for a political candidate you hate, we can no longer be friends.

If you think a hot dog should be classified as a sandwich, I might classify you as the devil! 

You laugh, but it’s true. How have we gotten to this point? Having civil conversations about anything we may disagree on seems to have become a lost art, to the point where you’re convinced some people aren’t happy unless they can vehemently disagree with someone’s point of view. So, the question for today’s blog post becomes this: How can we learn to communicate in these situations without becoming bitterly angry, unnecessarily defensive, hostile, cruel, and even polarizing to everyone around us?

Finding Common Ground

In William Ury’s book, Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations, he introduces the breakthrough negotiation model to help us deal with tough times, tough people, and tough negotiations. This is especially true in situations where you’re dealing with a stubborn boss, an irate customer, and even a deceitful coworker, and just a few of his tips include the following:

  • Stay in control under pressure
  • Defuse anger and hostility 
  • Find out what the other side wants
  • Use power to bring the other side back to the table
  • Reach agreements that satisfy both sides’ needs

The exciting thing was that he wrote Getting Past No in response to another one of his books, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. That book received quite a bit of pushback from readers who argued, “What if you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t want to say yes? You know … the people who take great pride and sick enjoyment from being disagreeable.”

For these situations, I defer to Ury’s model:

  1. Go to the balcony — Metaphorically speaking, improving your communication when you disagree with someone’s point of view starts with rising above the conversation, looking down on it, and asking yourself objectively, “What’s really going on here, and why are people so entrenched in their position on this topic?” Is it all on them, or are you contributing to the problem in some way?
  2. Keep your emotions in check — When someone disagrees with you, the natural reaction is that you feel attacked. The same is true if you disagree with someone else. The next thing you know, you feel attacked, they feel attacked, and you both become insanely defensive. The conversation then starts spiraling out of control, and emotions escalate pretty quickly. 
  3. Gain a sense of understanding — Rather than let your emotions take the wheel, create dialogue that helps you and the other person understand why you each feel the way you do and what led you to develop this staunch point of view. Help each other understand why you believe your side of the story is correct without trying to pick apart each other’s argument or attacking where you each perceive a weakness in each other’s argument. Listen with an open mind.
  4. Be willing to modify your perception — To communicate with civility, even when you disagree with someone’s point of view, you must modify your perception and open it up for potential scrutiny. 

Actively listening is key

All too often, we refuse to listen to different perspectives other than our own — regardless of whether those perspectives are right or wrong. If we continue to shut off that side of ourselves, our learning ability is forever compromised. Any openness to different perspectives is not a sign of weakness, and it’s not an indication that you or the other person has switched to the dark side. It is necessary for our overall development as leaders and all-around good people. 

If you put all these steps into practice, you may find more mutual ground than you initially thought. You may even find a flaw or weakness in your argument, thus helping you learn something new and improve your communication skills simultaneously.

This is an extremely important topic that deserves more attention. In upcoming blogs, we will explore historical and contemporary notions of civility, introduce dialogue as a discourse to promote civil communication, and we will discuss why we often reach an impasse and how to handle those difficult situations.

The Business World Demands More Effective Communication

Whether you are an organizational leader or an employee working your way up the corporate ladder, improving your communication skills in settings where you may disagree with the person on the other side of the table is important. It takes a lot of practice, but you will get there with hard work, practice, and the right frame of mind.

This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. TalkMeUp gives you and your teams the feedback everyone needs to communicate better — all in real-time. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you see changes in your communication, others will see you as a leader who speaks passionately and confidently in any setting.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp can help you improve your communication skills? Try TalkMeUp for free with no obligation.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.