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Great Debate

How to disagree without being disagreeable

Just because it sounds like you're disagreeing doesn't mean you actually are--it could be a simple mis-communication. Often, you'll find there's really nothing to argue about. Some helpful advice:

  • Consider underlying concerns. If it's clear you're disagreeing, make sure you understand what the other side really wants. Don't assume you know. Consider this classic: Two kids squabble over the last orange in the fridge. Dad hears the ruckus and, without a word, slices the fruit in equal halves and gives one to each child. Yet they still squabble! Why? One kid wanted to eat the pulp, and the other just wanted to play with the rind!
  • Put a pin in it. If you reach an impasse, consider "agreeing to disagree." Solutions come more easily as trust builds.
  • Explain yourself. If you must say no, deliver it diplomatically, and provide a plausible explanation. Respect your opponent's intelligence, and they will not resent you.
  • Understand the value of no. Being difficult has strategic advantages. The stony countenance that says "Don't even think of asking" can discourage even the sturdiest opponent, and a flat "No" is often the best way to quash idiotic demands. But protect your reputation. There's a big difference between being savvy and tough, and simply being a jerk.

A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is author of Deal Power

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This article was originally published in the November 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Great Debate.

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