Communicate during a disagreement

Communication is important, which is nothing new to you.

For me, it is a very interesting topic. So interesting that it is what my college degrees are in, and I enjoy continuous study of it. I am currently reading a book called “We Need to Talk,” by Celeste Headlee. A really good read, if you’re interested. I think everyone should read it.

Of course, I think that about a lot of books.

There is so much conflict and argumentativeness and disagreement in our world today. I observe a lot of it from a distance, and I read much of it online. Locally, there seems to be a lot of controversial topics cropping up that have people butting heads. Personally, I also got caught up in a bad week recently. It was emotionally draining. The short version of the story is that a friend of mine and I stopped seeing eye-to-eye. In our attempt to reconcile our differences, we argued. A lot. Mistakes were made and admitted, apologies were offered, insights were gained. Coming out on the other side of the worst of it and combined with what I’ve been reading on social media between people, it made me think about writing this column.

We all get into arguments throughout our lives. There are good ways to argue and other ways that aren’t as productive or healthy. Productive ways to engage in conflict are taught in the field of communication.

When we argue or have a disagreement with someone, the following are some key points to keep in mind.

When in an argument, we should listen as much as we talk. Listening is important so we understand where the other person is coming from. We can better understand their feelings, way of thinking, and the situation according to their perspective. We should listen attentively and without judgement or without trying to create a response while we are in the middle of listening. You may recall me sharing one of my favorite quotes with you in a past column, “Listen to understand, not to reply.” That’s what we must learn to do.

When in an argument or disagreement, we should avoid destructive tactics. Those are things that personally attack, demean, or devalue the other person.

For example, if someone is sensitive about a topic, we should not bring it up and use it as a verbal weapon (“No wonder you are divorced,” or, “I wouldn’t hire you, either,” or, “It’s a good thing you can’t have children.”). We should also avoid blame and defensiveness. Both tend to shift focus from a solution to pointing fingers and engaging in personal attacks, leading to resentment and more anger. Statements such as, “You don’t communicate with me,” “You never respond in a timely manner,” and, “You are so mean to me,” should all be switched to I-messages. For example, “I would like you to respond timelier when I reach out.” That opens the door for discussion and doesn’t shut the door to communication because of blame.

In addition to listening and using I-messages, there are other behaviors we can utilize that allow for a productive solution when in conflict. We should apologize as necessary and when appropriate. We should seek collaboration where both parties can feel good about the result. We should seek to use supportive statements that validate what we know to be true about the other person (“I know you are a good person, but I felt very hurt by your actions.”). We should focus on the problem and not on the personalities, empathize with the other person, and make suggestions instead of demands.

After my argument and some in-depth analysis on how it went and after seeing some horrific comments on social media about a local issue, I started thinking that it is no wonder our society is becoming further separated and the wedge between people becoming larger. It seems that we too often engage with each other in an ineffective manner, if we engage at all. Nearly all the things I listed in this column that we should not do, were being done in what I was reading online. Many of the things I have listed that we should do when in conflict were not present in what I was reading.

Sadly, I had seen it many times before.

We must get better at communicating and learn how to engage during times of agreement as well as times of disagreement. None of us are perfect in our communication. We can all make modifications and improvements and continue to grow in our communication, focusing especially on times we are engaged in a disagreement.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs biweekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.