The reason people keep arguing with you is that they don’t agree.  Bit of a duh, huh?

The reason you keep arguing is that you don’t agree with them.  In both cases, you may be more innocent than you think.  It may be that you took a wrong turn in your communication because of the common ways we think about communication.


Steven Covey, while no longer with us, has an enduring legacy in bringing ethics and common sense to the realm of professional success.  One of his 7 Habits deals with communication.  He was almost right.  Covey stated it as Habit 5,stephen_covey_picture

Seek first to understand and then to be understood

Of course, it makes good sense when you think about it.  How much can be saved in terms of turmoil and trauma borne from failing to understand!  And yet, there are a couple of points to ponder as to whether or not this is the best communication advice:

    1. If I’m seeking to be understood, can’t I accidentally force my view on an unwilling soul?
    2. Can we ever arrive if we think understand = agree?

On both counts there are genuine issues that may (I said may) arise from this habit.  The most powerful deterrent to communication is manipulation.  No one seems to respond well to manipulation.  And yet, when we force another to ‘get’ what we are talking about we are running perilously close to the canyon of manipulation.  Covey never meant anything like this to happen, but I can tell you from my own 30+ years in the communication field, it happens all the time.   Well meaning people keep forcing their views down other people’s throats.  The habit doesn’t quite help us avoid this temptation.

The second point is subtle but powerful.  Think about it— If you are communicating with someone who thinks agreeing is the same as understanding, then what is the predictable result?  Won’t they keep explaining and explaining until you agree?  In fact, if you don’t agree with them, they just think you don’t understand them yet.

Here’s a a proposed alternative:

First Understand, then Disagree

While there is more to the story because the speaker and listener are mildly different, we have seen powerful results with this slight distinction.  Imagine getting involved at work (or home) in a conversation with the simple rule of “First Understand, then Disagree.”  Won’t the conversation be focused on really understanding because you have separated the two?  Also, how will there be manipulation since the nature of disagreeing is out there in the open?  Honestly, 95% of day-to-day arguments will disappear if you understand before you disagree.

Here’s the challenge:  Go try it with someone (yes, tell them openly this is an experiment in communication).  Say, “Let’s First Understand each other, then let’s see where we disagree.”  After the discussion, come back here and post your results…even if it doesn’t help, we will all benefit.  And yet, I bet you will be surprised!

 “Nothing is as frustrating as arguing with someone who knows what he’s talking about.” -Sam Ewing

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand (Your Friendly Neighborhood Communicologist)

(c) Fred Ray Lybrand, 2013

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