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All of us have experienced disagreements which have threatened to turn friends into enemies.  The bad relations arising from these disagreements can often become permanent.  Surely, it would be good to reverse or heal some of this.  What if we could do something that would cause even our worst enemies to turn around and come a step or two in our direction?  This article is an attempt to help us achieve such a goal.

In disagreements, what usually happens is that both sides exaggerate (often only slightly) what the other person did or said.  For example, someone may say they don’t believe something you have said; you reply that they have accused you of lying; and they fight back by saying that you have falsely claimed that they have called you a liar, when they said nothing of the sort.  Each person is trying to express what they felt was being said.  However, after a dozen exchanges like this accusations can be quite extreme, and each side becomes entrenched in their beliefs about the other.

Think about how many times, in an argument, someone shouts, “I did NOT say that!  What I actually said was…”  That happens because we have our own spin on what the other person has said (based on the fact that they hurt our feelings), and it’s precisely that spin which keeps the argument going.

When a country goes to war, it becomes necessary to do everything in each country's power to demonise the enemy, in order to justify killing people (soldiers mostly) who support that country’s government.  Is this what we want to do with our personal "enemies”?  Do we really want to demonise them, and drag others into doing the same?  Or would it be better to work at resolving the differences?  (Remember, some of these enemies were once our friends!)

What follows can be an important step toward solving the impasse:

In a disagreement (largely because of the type of exaggerations mentioned above) both sides will argue that the other side is not listening, whereas we each believe that we ourselves have listened.  This article is offering a way to prove that we have been listening.  It’s not easy, but it can produce almost miraculous results.  

You just re-state your opponent’s case, in terms with which your opponent would actually agree.  

You don’t necessarily need to agree with what your opponent has said, because all you’re trying to prove is that you have listened well enough to see it as they see it… before you suggest any changes to their perspective.

For example, someone insults you, and so you react in anger.  But the person says that they did not intend to be insulting, that they were only trying to emphasise some weakness that they felt you were ignoring.  So that is what you write or say back to them.  For example, “As I understand it, you are saying that you believe I have a weakness, that I have not been doing anything about changing it, and that you were only trying to get me to look at it.  Is that right?”  If they still think you have missed something, let them state their case again, and have another try.

Now one of the first things you are going to discover when you do this, is that your own position becomes less aggressive.  You start to think, “Maybe it’s worth agreeing with at least part of what they have said".  You might say, in the illustration above, “Well, I do have that weakness; I know.  But I feel that I’ve been making some effort to change, and you don’t seem to realise that.”

You may also be surprised that sometimes (when they have heard their own argument expressed fairly) they will offer a correction which softens their position, e.g. “I’m not really saying that you don’t do anything about changing; but I don’t think you do enough.”

All of this flows rather naturally from an effort to demonstrate that you really heard what they said.  And even if nothing gets resolved, the tension can be eased just by that little bit of effort.  You may finish up just agreeing to disagree.  But at least you stopped the slide toward becoming bitter enemies.

If you will try this the next time you have a disagreement (or maybe even try it on someone with whom you have already had a long-standing disagreement), you may be surprised at just how quickly it can start breaking down barriers and giving room for both of you to move forward in your relationship.
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