10 Words to Help You Survive a Disagreement

July 3, 2014

By Phil Ransom


Disagreements are NO fun.   If everyone thought as you do life would be so much simpler, but they don’t. Count on it, there will be differences of opinion at home, work, and with friends.  These ten words will help you navigate the disagreement and help you emerge unscathed on the other side of the discomfort, or at least know why things are the way they are.

Use the first three all at once, have them choose one of the next four, then use the final three together.

Tell me more.

Properly timed, the soft-spoken use of these three words can nearly disarm your detractor or objector. Rather than putting you on the defensive as they might expect or even hope, “tell me more” invites them to elaborate on a portion of their argument, clarify part of it, or even say the last 10% if you sense they’re holding back.   Here’s what “tell me more” does for you, the listener:

  • It allows you to hear your temporary opponent again, or in greater detail so you know you’re hearing things right.
  • It lets you hear the real concern (the first pass may have been rehearsed or even scripted so they’d say things right)
  • It buys you time, if you need it, to craft and revise your first response. Count to ten -maybe twice.

Next, have them clarify, choosing one of these four words:

Always, Generally, Sometimes, Once

These help you discern how prevalent the concern, how pressing the need.

4) Always – Is this always true? Does it happen every time? Is it true of everyone?
3) Generally – Is this an undesired norm? Affecting most? Are there exceptions?
2) Sometimes – Does this occur now and then? Perhaps Frequently?  What conditions are also true when this is true (if it is)?
1) Once – Is this the only matter on which we differ?  Are there more? Is this an isolated instance?

Knowing the frequency or scope of the issue will help you measure its importance and urgency. Remember, important and urgent are not synonymous.

Alternate sets of four might include
4) Vital             3) Significant 2) Worth Noting  1) Unimportant,  or
4) Devastating  3) Offensive   2) Good to know  1) Minor.

Once you have a grasp of the issue and the level of your disagreement you’re ready for the last three words of the ten.

If I may —

You’ve earned the right to be heard now. You know the real issue and its severity. Thanks to “tell me more” you’ve had a bit of time to decide how you’re going to respond.

  • Does your detractor need to bring a solution to the table, rather than dropping this on your desk?
  • What’s the best course of action?
  • Is there a compromise needed?
  • Do you need to thank them for speaking forthrightly and with respect, then clarify your position or company policy?
  • Is this the time to encourage continued cooperation and good will?
  • Is an apology in order – maybe from you?

Tell me more. Quantify. If I may.

Your skill and diplomacy with today’s ten words will hopefully precipitate a blend of discussion, problem-solving, understanding, and good will.  If not, (not all disagreements are resolvable) at least you will know you understood their view and took the time to hear them out.

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