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How to keep a disagreement from becoming an argument

Every time I visit my mom in Mexico City she insists that I clean out my bedroom to which I respond “Let's throw everything out! If I didn’t need it for the last 10 years I’m sure I won’t need it now” but something stops her.

My mom and I are very different when it comes to owning things. She has trouble getting rid of a sweater she wore in 1990, while I can basically throw half my closet without blinking.

While going through my books I came across “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book was part of a sales workshop I attended during my time working for American Express Publishing. I never read the book because the title sounded to me like “How to be a Fake and get people to do what you want” but on this occasion, I opened it and to my surprise couldn’t stop reading. This book is a gem. One of my favorite reads is when he lists how to keep a disagreement from becoming an argument [pgs. 148-150] He writes this from a business context but imagine if we could use this as a tool with our partners, family or friends. Thanksgiving Dinners would change forever.


  • 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.
  • Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem – Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting, ask yourself some hard questions: Could my opponents be right? Partly right? Is there truth or merit in their position or argument? Is my reaction one that will relieve the problem, or will it just relieve any frustration? Will my reaction drive my opponents further away or draw them closer to me? Will my reaction elevate the estimation good people have of me? Will I win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I am quiet about it, will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation an opportunity for me?