Have Conversations, Not Arguments

I am a lawyer coach who specializes in helping professionals deal with attorney fatigue, lawyer burnout and lawyer depression.

The year 2020 will be remembered for many things, most of them negative. There is one thing that most people will agree on, and that is we can’t wait for it to be over. I can’t remember when so many topics were off limits, whether it is politics, religion, health, jobs, finances or political correctness. It seems that conversations eventually end up poorly as arguments and not consensus.

I am enjoying my fourth wedding anniversary as I am writing this article. What you may not know is I voted for Trump and my wife voted for Clinton. At first, we just agreed not to discuss politics because we would always fall into the trap of trying to convince the other of our opinions. As we worked through it, we learned some things about discussing “hot, dangerous topics”. Here are some suggestions to avoid game ending arguments.

  1. Discuss feelings, not topics. Always talk about how you feel about a topic. What you believe or your opinion can get you into trouble but talking about how you feel is a fair topic of conversation. You may even get a better understanding of how you feel and why you feel that way. “Politics make me afraid because___________.” Even better, “Talking with you about makes me __”. You will find that on many topics both of you may feel the same way and thus you have something in common.
  2. You have to agree to disagree. I have been divorced twice. Both of those were caused by a refusal to agree to disagree. I still don’t understand why people can’t accept that others are just as entitled to their opinion as I am to mine. They have every right to their opinion; they don’t have the right to tell me what my opinion should be. The quicker people can respect each other and agree to disagree, the quicker they can have conversations instead of arguments.
  3. Try to understand. A great way to defuse any argument is to ask the other person to help you understand their position. Compassion is a valuable trait for anyone to cultivate. Many arguments end badly when one or both don’t feel respected. If you can get to a place where you understand their position but simply disagree, you can fall back on #2 above. It is also enlightening to listen to someone else’s opinion. Allow them to have their opinion and acknowledge that they are helping you learn.
  4. Never try to convince anyone. The trap most conversations fall into is “I’m right and you are wrong”. You need to get to “I understand but I disagree”. This way you are not making them “wrong”. Avoid making conclusory statements that are void of any facts. Oftentimes what we consider to be facts are just opinions that someone else said. If the other person doesn’t believe the same way, don’t try to convince them they are wrong. I have heard that it is a waste of time to try to teach a pig to sing. Let them have their opinion.
  5. Conversations are secondary. Relationships are primary. In other words, if you have a disagreement and insist on being right, you may lose the relationship. Then you have truly lost something valuable. If you are having a discussion with a stranger, you may lose the opportunity to make a friend. If you are having a conversation with a friend, you may lose a friend. You have to decide what is more important, being right or having friends with differing opinions.
  6. Don’t Make it Personal. Make it clear that having a debate is a good thing that both persons can learn from. It really doesn’t matter who wins, the fact that you are using your mental faculties sharpens them. You should be grateful for the opportunity to have a debate or disagreement on occasion. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make either one of you stupid, wrong or insane.

Let me just add that I am not talking about how to deal with people with pathological mental or emotional problems. This also applies to people who are abusive. You probably shouldn’t be talking with those people at all. However, there are healthy ways to have important, even spirited, conversations about differing beliefs or issues. This is how we grow.