Five Tips to Having Productive Disagreements

The other day while walking my dog, I stumbled across my neighbor putting up a Trump sign in her lawn. A spark of annoyance burned in my chest at the sight of the sign, but it was quickly snuffed out by her warm smile as she waved us over. She asked me how my first year of college was going and shared a bit of neighborhood gossip on the other first-years at various other schools.

But then, our disagreement arose as she seemed irritated that Rhodes has gone online for the semester because of COVID-19. She claimed that the pandemic is just the flu and that the government is overreacting. As the daughter of a pediatrician, I was a bit offended. Especially after seeing the efforts my mom puts in to care for her infected patients and keep my family safe.

Then an argument ensued in which neither of us was really listening to each other, and both of us were assuming the other was just too naive to have different opinions on the matter. 

At the end of this conversation, it was clear that neither of us had even bothered considering the other’s point of view. The sad thing is, if the conversation had gone just a little bit differently, we both might have actually gotten something valuable out of it.

So in lieu of that incident, here are a few ways I’ve come up with to NOT make the same mistakes I did!

  1. 1. LISTEN to each other, and ASK QUESTIONS

    two women talking at a table together work business casual

    This might sound simple, but it goes a long way! Show the other the person you’re actively listening to them, and ask for clarification on certain facts or information. Asking questions will ensure that you understand their argument, and it gets the other person to question themselves about how much they actually know about the topic. 

  2. 2. RELATE their points to your own experiences

    Providing context to your own experiences allows the other person to understand why you believe what you do. This is especially helpful if the argument does end up getting heated because it’s a reminder of your humanity. Don’t forget that we’re all humans here!

  3. 3. ADMIT what you don’t know

    Hero image appropriate for article on Unhealthy Relatioships - image of a question mark

    There’s nothing worse than someone who lies just to prove their point. Take the high ground and don’t say something unless you know it’s true. People who are confident enough to say “I don’t know, but I do know this…” are much more trustworthy than someone that expects you to take everything they say at face value.

  4. 4. DO YOUR RESEARCH

    woman writing in a notebook with laptop nearby

    Don’t just look for information that supports your argument, also look for information that goes against it! Knowing about the other side’s viewpoint gives you a leg up in the conversation, showing the other person that you have considered their point, but that you made a different conclusion. Also, the ability to cite your sources makes you look more well-read on the subject!

  5. 5. Understand that THEY’RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO CHANGE THEIR MIND 

    Black Lives Matter march holding banners and signs.

    That’s the bad news… or the good news! Now you have someone who doesn’t hate you and is willing to have a conversation about what they believe! How many times have you had an argument and their points completely changed your mind? Probably not many. So be patient and understand that it can be hard for people to change.

Next time, make sure to keep these tips in mind so you won’t be angrily stomping away like I was!