"Welcome the Disagreement"

Readers, a bonus post this week: I stumbled onto the following striking excerpt in Dale Carnegie's seminal self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The ideas here are simple, yet relevant to the sometimes controversial issues we discuss here at Casual Kitchen. There's help here for any instance where we're in disagreement with others. Read on and please share your thoughts.

How to Keep a Disagreement from Becoming an Argument

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.

The advice above seems incredibly simple, doesn't it? Almost too simple, like much of what you typically find in run-of-the-mill self-help literature. In reality, however, this passage asks you to do something fairly sophisticated: it asks you to reframe disagreement into something more powerful and useful.

Most of us instantly put up barriers when we bump up against disagreement. Imagine if we repatterned that instinctive reaction and instead viewed disagreement as an opportunity to learn and collaborate.

A final thought: I'm always surprised by how much value I get each time I return to Dale Carnegie's book. How to Win Friends and Influence People is an innocent book from another era, not really the kind of book that would much get traction in today's era of rampant irony, snark and hipsterism. And yet the ideas in this book--listening first, seeking areas of agreement and common ground, giving honest praise and approbation and so on--are more true today than ever. Highly recommended.

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