The Art of Disagreeing Well: Embracing the Messiness Through Crucial Conversations

The Art of Disagreeing Well: Embracing the Messiness Through Crucial Conversations

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University

Controversy with Civility Series

Part 1: Embracing the Messiness

In this series, I have highlighted several tools to help us embrace the messy conversations. We’ve looked at Public Deliberation as a tool for navigating conversations around policy issues and Intergroup Dialogue as a framework for promoting dialogue across different social identities. We now have tools to talk about difference across race, gender, or religion, as well as hot topics like campus carry and immigration. We do not have to retreat in silence but can instead engage in meaningful and productive dialogue with people who may disagree with us. We have some tools to help us disagree well and to work through difference to find a common way forward together.

There are times, though, when difference is personal, when personalities clash or issues arise with another individual. Instead of group conflict, sometimes it is the individual conflict that can interfere with our work, add to our stress, and hinder our progress toward a common goal. How do we embrace the messiness of conversations with the other, when the other may be a friend, a family member, an acquaintance or a coworker? How do we disagree well with another person?

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Crucial Conversations training offered by Vital Smarts, a two-day intensive training full of tools in the toolbox to help us have those crucial conversations with others and to resolve the conflict that keeps us apart. It is based on the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.

Here is a fun & quick video introduction to the book and the concepts of navigating crucial conversations well.

In case you missed it, several key principles from Crucial Conversations include:

  • Get Unstuck
  • Start with Heart
  • Master Your Stories
  • State Your Path
  • Learn to Look
  • Make it Safe
  • Explore Others’ Paths
  • Move to Action

I highly recommend adding the book to your reading list and attending the training if you have the chance. These skills helped me feel prepared to tackle the emotionally charged, important conversations with others. Instead of shying away in fear or lashing out unproductively, it gave me strategies to listen, to share, and to address issues with others in a way that can preserve the relationship and move us forward together.

I use crucial conversation skills now with students, when I need to have accountability conversations or when conflict arises in a student group.

I use crucial conversation skills with colleagues and with my boss, when I need to talk through areas of disagreement or talk about concerns.

I use crucial conversation skills with friends and family, when navigating holidays, tough decisions, or relationship drama.

I use crucial conversation skills with donors and guests, when I want to get on the same page and establish mutual purpose & respect.

I use crucial conversation skills in any number of situations to talk about any number of different issues with any number of different people. It has given me the confidence and the skills to have the important conversations and to work through issues, conflict, or decisions together.

In this first part of the Controversy with Civility Series, we have now looked at three valuable tools for embracing the messiness. We have Public Deliberation as a model that can guide policy discussions. We have Intergroup Dialogue as a model that can bridge difference across identity groups. We have Crucial Conversations as a toolkit for interpersonal communication.

Are tools enough, though? In my next post, I will shift from discussing tools to discussing heart - how we learn to listen and to love the other. All the tools in our practitioner toolbox will not help us disagree well if we see the other as the enemy. Join me next time as we begin part two of the series, Controversy with Civility: Listening & Loving the Other.

Additional Resources:

Crucial Conversations by Vital Smarts

Click here to see all posts in this series.

About the Author: Erin Payseur is the Associate Director of Civic Learning Initiatives at Baylor University. She has ten years of experience in civic engagement and higher education. As part of the Office of Community Engagement & Service, she develops sustainable frameworks for co-curricular service & social justice initiatives to guide students in considering their roles as leaders and citizens. She currently serves as the institutional contact for the NASPA Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Lead Initiative. She has authored several articles and presented nationally on civic engagement, service, and leadership. In addition to her civic engagement work, she also serves as adjunct faculty for the leadership minor. She has a B.A. degree in Religion/ Philosophy from Presbyterian College and a M.Ed. in Higher Education & Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina.

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University