Choosing conversation over confrontation

“By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.” — Dale Carnegie

Very sadly, it seems that the world is going in the wrong direction as it relates to finding common ground when parties disagree. Not only is common ground not part of the process, entrenching in your own position and not budging is the path that all too many are following. Some examples:

  • Recently in Madison, there has been a heated discussion before the school board regarding the presence of police officers in high schools. One side absolutely believes this is the only solution to addressing a couple of things: giving young people the opportunity to see and mingle with police in a positive environment and having an “on the spot” presence when negative incidents occur. These are the incidents that are really not capable of being handled by educators. In the public hearings on this subject, shouting, yelling, and even worse have taken place.
  • Politics! In the many years that I have been voting, there has never been a time that diametrical opposition to another point of view has been stronger. Regardless of where you get your news — print, digital, TV, radio, word of mouth, etc. — the message is always the same: “They,” whoever they are, are 100% right and “the other side,” whoever they are, are 100% wrong. It is absolutely impossible to have a conversation between the two opposing sides. Confrontation is, unfortunately, the only vehicle. The current “discussion” regarding the Supreme Court nominee is a perfect example. If you are on one side, you believe you support a nominee who will make decisions guided by the rule of law. If you are on the other side, you believe he will destroy laws.
  • Sports. If you watch and listen closely, not a week goes by without hearing about a confrontation between fans at a sporting event. In fact, people have actually been killed because they were wearing gear from the “wrong” team. This is beyond crazy!

The examples could go on forever. The sad news is that even if you “win” one of these confrontations, you still lose because you will never get your opponent’s goodwill. In fact, your opponent will be even more dug in than before and the relationship and the ability to truly communicate will grow even further apart. 

A better approach might be to actually listen to what the other person is saying. Listen to understand, not to rebut!

The late Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses the example of the talking stick. He describes the talking stick as one of the most powerful communication tools he has used. Stemming from Native American culture, it has been used for centuries to build understanding and resolve differences respectfully and effectively.

The idea is that only the person holding the stick gets to make their point and they continue to speak on this point until they feel they have been understood. The other person(s) are only permitted to speak insofar as they need to clarify or reflect back in order to demonstrate that they have understood the speaker. Once the speaker feels that his or her point has been understood, they then have to pass the stick to the next person and equally facilitate him or her to make their point until they are satisfied their point has been understood. Of course, you don’t have to use a talking stick; you can just follow the process.



The big point here is right out of the writings of Dale Carnegie: “Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, ‘You’re wrong.’”

In the middle of all of this is something called having an open mind and respect for others. Those who are unable or unwilling to embrace this concept will forever be defending their positions and destroying relationships. So let’s talk. Let’s at least start by looking for common ground on tough subjects. Let’s agree to disagree if we have to, but still maintain relationships.

Let’s always be part of the solution, not the problem!

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