Tag Archives: disagreement

Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

"Taurus" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When a person who has agreed to a behavioral change does not follow through, the ability to confront that person with compassion is essential. No matter how justified your anger, a hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more frustration and distance.

The goal of a compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. Starting with this kind of dialogue is far more effective than letting your anger take over.

Arrange a Meeting

It is important to avoid simply jumping into a difficult conversation. You will be much more effective if you arrange a meeting with the following parameters in mind:

1. The meeting takes place in a safe place,

2. With adequate time for full discussion,

3. Without other people or the children around,

4. Not right before going to bed, and

5. Not when either of you is exhausted, has been drinking, or is hungry.

Ask the other person to agree to two conditions:

1. To give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you will leave before the time is up, and

2. To avoid attacking each other and interrupting. If you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, let’s do this without attacking or interrupting each other, like we agreed.”

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and to convey that you want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you will need to have a full understanding of what’s going on. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what they are saying. It is crucial not to take things personally when they speak from a position of fear.

Communications Professor Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it has a damaging effect on dialogue. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation. In fact, you will often be surprised by the the other person’s point of view.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects both of us.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t shut down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of their view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

To neutralize the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion, take the negative content and re-frame it without the negative emotion. Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel annoyed by the way I approach you when you come home.”

Your Point of View

Once you have gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if they will listen to your perspective. Again keep it neutral and descriptive so as to gain their understanding. Keep it calm and brief.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves and each other.


Do not rush to solve a problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes to reality. But first it is crucial to find out what the other person’s reality really is.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.

Disagreement: “You’re wrong!”

"Why not?" — Einstein by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

“Why not?” — Einstein by Mimi Stuart©
Live the Life you Desire

The Benefit of Debate

I was in the car with an attorney friend who was discussing with his previous law partner a legal case. After a passionate disagreement about the best approach to take in the case, he surprised me by ending the conversation with “I love you Buddy.”

When I asked him about this apparent contradiction, he said, “I love working with this guy! We think differently, yet we can be totally straight forward about disagreeing with each other. We complement each other perfectly. ”

It struck me that this rare quality—the ability to openly disagree without bitterness and resentment—is one of the key ingredients to any outstanding partnership, whether romantic or professional. When two people can be candid with each other without becoming defensive or ready to capitulate or dig in, they can have productive, creative, and lively discussions about daily challenges and opportunities. Moreover, it will make their relationship interesting and animated.

Productive Disagreements

To discuss differences productively, we should focus on having the following two motivations:

1.  to figure out and consider the merits of what the other person believes and wants, and

2.  to express ourselves in a way that the other person will listen to us without becoming defensive.

To communicate effectively and avoid bitter arguments, we can try the following:

1. Listen carefully and really try to understand what the other person thinks and feels. Put ourselves in his or her shoes.

2. Let the other person finish his or her thoughts before interrupting with another point of view.

3. Use body language and tone of voice that won’t trigger the other person when expressing ourselves.

4. Be ready to simply accept our differences. There is no need to have total agreement all the time. Sometimes finesse, patience, and multiple discussions are necessary to find a win-win solution.

Relationships improve when people can discuss their true opinions both passionately and compassionately. When you are motivated to enhance your relationship by respecting the other person, communication becomes passionate, effective and rewarding.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read  “To fight or not to fight:  ‘After a fight, we barely talk to each other for days.’”

Read  “Resentment.”


To fight or not to fight:
“After a fight, we barely talk to each other for days.”

"Canon in D" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

A musical canon consists of “two or more parts that have the same melody but start at different points.” Like the variety we find in music, we also find great variety in types of relationships that work and don’t work. There are both healthy and unhealthy relationships among couples who argue and among couples who don’t.

No Fighting

Unhealthy: Some couples who never fight will simply hide their differing opinions and emotions, creating a situation that leads to distance and frosty disengagement. The partners, feeling alienated, sadly drift apart.

Healthy: Some couples who don’t typically fight have learned how to actively listen and to express their opinions and disagreements without expressing contempt for the other person. This seems ideal, but is difficult to live up to when emotions run high.


Unhealthy: Some people who argue and fight do not listen to each other. They attack and defend. As a result, mutual negativity and contempt for each other grow until the relationship is nothing more than a bitter struggle.

Healthy: Some couples who have disagreements and lose their temper care deeply for each other and desire to put right any harm done.

Attempts to Repair

What’s more important than avoiding conflict is the earnest attempt to repair hurt feelings after a disagreement—and the sooner the better. Loving couples have empathy for each other, and will therefore, hasten to apologize for harsh words or losing their temper.

Having fights is not necessarily harmful to a relationship as long as there is not abuse or a pattern of criticism and contempt. Getting past the hurt feelings caused by arguments occurs best when each person’s overriding concern is for the well-being of the other and the relationship, which rests on the well-being of both partners.

More important than whether a couple fights is how often and quickly they try to repair their relationship after disagreements. Phyllis Diller might have been right when she said, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” Some fighting, unless it’s constant or cruel, can be fine as long as couples strive to make peace soon afterwards.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

~Mahatma Gandhi

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Compassionate Confrontation: ‘He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.’”

Read “Avoidance Behavior: ‘I’ve been dreading telling her about our financial problems.’”

Read “That’s wrong. I totally disagree.”

“That’s wrong. I totally disagree.”

"Einstein Perplexed" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“What leads you to that conclusion? Could you explain how you came to that opinion.”

“What if we looked at it a little differently…”

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.


by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Respect each other: ‘He’s always talking down to me.'”

Read “We always argue.”