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Some people are able to work together efficiently, while others easily and repeatedly fall into dysfunctional relationships.  The reason for this comes from the ways in which each group approaches their differences, with one approach reaping positive rewards and the other leading to constant tensions.

Differences of opinion are inevitable in any relationship; but it can make a world of difference if we will just take the time to ask why each person feels the way that they do.  If I want hamburgers for lunch and you want hot dogs, there are reasons why we feel differently, and just arguing that we want one or the other in itself achieves nothing.

It would seem reasonable to assume that the problem has arisen because you like the taste of hot dogs and you do not like the taste of hamburgers, and that my situation is the exact opposite.  But only rarely is the matter as simple as that.  Here are just a few possible reasons you might have for preferring hot dogs at any particular time:

1. We have both had hamburgers for the last three days, and you want something different.

2. Hot dogs are on special at the moment, and work out to be half the price of hamburgers.

3. We have a friend visiting whom you know likes hot dogs.

4. There are some hot dogs in the fridge which may go off if we don't eat them today.

Of course there are bad reasons for wanting them too.  You may just be angry about something else, and wanting to express your anger in a trivial matter like this.  But that, too, can be best dealt with if you and your associates could consider it and reflect on how to deal with the underlying cause of the problem.

I may also have several different reasons for preferring hamburgers.  But if we do not get those reasons out in the open, and lay them side by side, the matter will continue to be a me vs you battle in defence of each person's stubborn will.  When we DO compare our various reasons, however, we cease to argue, and we begin to counsel.  Sadly, there is far too little counsel in the world, and often the best decisions are missed because of it.  

Demanding your own way is not constructive, but neither is too much giving in to others just for the sake of peace.  People often walk away from an opportunity to counsel because they are too lazy to listen to (or express) why each side feels the way they do.  The relationship can grow, and bitterness can be avoided, if you will take the time to listen empathetically to the opinions of others and to examine dispassionately your own reasons for feeling the way that you do.

Counselling works toward the best possible decision for everyone concerned, and it works best when there are two or more people who both want to find the best decision more than they want to win an argument.  They need to believe that they are not the only one looking for the best possible decision, so that they will not view each other as opponents.  Trust your partner to listen to you; and trust your partner to have good reasons to share for his or her opinions as well.

Occasionally the arguments will be pretty evenly balanced between two options; but if that is the case, it should become clear, after discussion, that your differences are only slight.  You will each be able to see that the other person also has good reasons, even if you do not believe the reasons to be quite strong enough to out-weigh your own.  However, on those occasions when your differences are both perceived to be slight, a compromise is not difficult once you have arrived at that conclusion.  I can give in to you this time, with an understanding that you will give in to me the next time that we find ourselves in a situation where there is only a slight difference between our reasons for differing.

I hope that this description of a functional relationship, where both sides think about why they are pushing in one direction, and why their partner is pushing in the other direction, will help you the next time a disagreement arises between you and someone you are trying to work with.  If you can remember it, then you may be able to shift from an argumentative stance to one of counsel and constructive decision-making for the best of everyone concerned.

The good fruit of such an approach is worth each of us making a lot more effort to remember the lesson in this article.

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