The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable

Elections can bring a lot of stress and strife into the lives of many people. They can even go so far as to destroy friendships and family relations.

Do you know a parent or grandparent who tried to order a young person how to vote? Are there friends or acquaintances that want to tell others how to vote? Have you known children who try to control the votes of old parents? I suspect that we all know some people who have done this.

Some of these events turn into heated arguments and hard feelings that may last for years or even a lifetime. Emotions sometimes spin out of control when others try to tell you what to do. This reaction is quite understandable.

I have known some great leaders on the job and at all levels of government over the years. The one thing they had in common was the ability to be positive and bring people around them to choose the right course. They avoided negative thinking and demonizing others who held different views.

The problem is not that people have disagreements, but rather how they are handled. Healthy conflicts and disagreements give us the opportunity to set forth our ideas and learn more about the ideas of others.

Certain people can be difficult to deal with because of their emotions. Some of these are chronic complainers who find fault with everyone but himself or herself. Others may have a self-serving bias and take credit for all that is good and blames others when things don’t turn out well. Some have what is called a confirmation bias so that their beliefs, even when contrary to the facts, can prevent them from learning and changing for the better.

Then, of course, there is the person who explodes and shouts whenever anyone disagrees with them. Some people are “negativists” who believe that nothing new or different will ever work. Others make the mistake of expressing their opinions as facts.

The effective leaders that I have known have had several common abilities. They resolved differences through respect, negotiation and compromise. Whenever possible, they dealt on a one-on-one basis and not in the presence of others on sensitive personal issues. They listened to what the other person had to say, used thoughtful consideration and a pleasing tone of voice.

They would try to get emotions out of the situation and focus on solving the problem. Sometimes the best course is simply to agree to disagree and proceed without rancor.

Tell people what you believe, rather than what you don’t want. Take time to think, rather than to react instinctively. One of the most effective things is to lighten up and use humor. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Nothing is accomplished arguing about politics or any other issue. It may destroy a relationship or friendship. However, I believe that healthy objective discussion can be a good thing. It can be an opportunity to learn.

It is one thing to explain to others how you plan to vote and why. However, it is quite another to attempt to pressure someone to vote a certain way based on your opinions alone. Our society needs to relearn what it means to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.

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