3 rules for disagreeing with someone

In the past four years, I’ve had debates, discourse, and disagreements about politics, feminism, religion, race, transgenderism, vaccines, and more.

Some were heated and aggressive. Some were fun and fruitful.

I handled myself quite well during some. I sounded like an ass during others.

It doesn’t matter how much we connect or get along with someone else. We’ll never agree with 100% of what they believe. Disagreeing is a natural part of the human experience.

Through my conversational struggles and from the many mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learned three helpful (yet difficult) rules for having more productive disagreements.

Feel free to disagree with them (get it?).

1) Come to terms with this truth: We can never force someone to think, feel, or believe something. They have to get there on their own.

We are not creatures of logic. We make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with logic.

In countless disagreements, I foolishly thought that if I just brought up another point of juicy rationale, I’d crack the other person and they’d see things the way I saw them.

Confirmation bias plagues us all. It will always be easy for us to pick and choose the (supposed) evidence which fits our narrative. We decide what we want to be true and identify with that belief. Then, if someone disagrees with that belief, it feels like they’re disagreeing with who we are as a person.

Yesterday, my friend told me about a heated debate between his two friends regarding the COVID vaccine.

One friend was arguing that the vaccines are probably not safe. He sent a screenshot of a well-sourced article listing the possible negative side effects.

The other friend then went to that same article and screenshotted a paragraph that was conveniently left out: the conclusion which said that the vaccine was ultimately proven to be safe.

I heard this part and thought that would be the shutting of the door to their argument. But the friend merely brushed it off and continued with his disputes.

With the power of the internet, we can find millions of people who agree with every possible opinion known to man. There are people with PhDs who believe the earth is flat. There are intelligent people who think the planet is 6000 years old.

Whether it’s opinions about vaccines or about our favorite athletes…our default is to cling to evidence that supports how we already feel and to shy away from evidence that challenges our beliefs.

Since that’s the case, we cannot ‘logic’ our way through a disagreement.

2) Ask way more questions.

There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand fully what we’re arguing against. The last thing we want to do is misrepresent someone and challenge ideas they don’t actually hold.

We ask questions to paint a crystal clear picture of what they’re actually thinking.

A strawman is a fallacy in which we argue against the worst possible representation of someone’s point.

Example: “Oh, we need to do something about climate change? So you just want us to stop driving cars and stop having kids, huh?”

No…that’s not what they’re saying. That’s a strawman.

By asking curious and clarifying questions (not leading questions meant to achieve a ‘gotcha’ moment), we’re able to steelman. This is the opposite of a strawman, in which we’re able to articulate someone’s opinions perfectly.

A steelman would have us say: “So just to be clear, you believe…” Then they would say: “Yes.”

That has to be our starting point.

The second reason asking questions is so effective is it demonstrates to the other person that we’re not here to attack them. The more curious we are, the more we show we just want to understand them, the more their guard will drop.

This isn’t a trick. We want everyone involved to lower their guard and feel safe to express themselves without reacting in a defensive manner.

Curious questions make it a conversation, not a debate. This is ideal. Debates have winners and losers. But in great conversations, everybody wins.

The final benefit of asking questions is it adds scrutiny to the conversation, exposing the true strength of the person’s argument.

While this should never be the goal of asking questions, it’s possible that the person “defeats” themselves with their own words. It’s a great way to see if this person has given thought and research into this thing they believe or if they just want to believe this thing.

I recently had a disagreement over the COVID vaccines myself. (To be clear, I’m not super passionate about vaccines. It’s just come up a ton in recent months so it’s fresh on my mind.)

My friend who was super wary of the vaccines was sharing his opinions. I did my best to just ask questions. As I did, I felt that their answers were on shaky ground and I found many holes in their arguments.

There were a lot of “I don’t know’s” and “I don’t remember’s.”

Again, I wasn’t trying to slam dunk this person I have a ton of love for. I just wanted to get a clear picture of their beliefs.

Asking questions is hard, especially when we don’t feel curious at all. Curiosity is tough to fake. But it’s the only way to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.

3) Separate the person from the argument.

We’re not arguing with people; we’re arguing with ideas.

I could go on for hours about how much I hated having Donald Trump as our president. But I’m also super close with people who absolutely loved him.

That doesn’t mean I actually hate these people. It just means I don’t connect with their ideas. We don’t need to agree with someone to hug them or to have a beer with them.

So in a disagreement, it’s powerful to avoid saying things like:

• “Where you’re wrong is…”
• “What you don’t see is…”
• “I disagree with you on…”

With phrases like these, it sounds again like we’re disagreeing with them as a person.

It’s better to say things like:

• “My problem with that perspective is…”
• “That argument to me is…”
• “The way I see things is…”

With phrases like these, we make it apparent that we’re just discussing ideas. It’s not a battle over who’s more righteous, more intelligent, or more sophisticated.

Conclusion

We have to pick our battles. I’ve ruined social events because I thought it was the perfect time to argue against Catholicism.

But we should also feel safe and free enough to express ourselves. This can best be done if we change our goals for disagreement.

Instead of wanting to win, we should want to collaborate and learn.

“Seek out people, books or ideas that contradict your current beliefs and one of two things will happen…A) you will discover that you are wrong or B) you will improve your arguments for your own ideas.”

-Mark Manson

3 questions to ask your best friend

Two puppies who are friends

I’ve talked about a feedback exercise we can do with those around us—friends, family, and colleagues. It’s wildly helpful in pinpointing our strengths and weaknesses.

But here are three questions we can ask those we hold dearest.

1) What is your favorite memory—or top three memories—of our time together?

2) When have I hurt you?

3) What have I done that you respect/admire most?

Talk to your friends

Two friends laughing together while sitting on a bench

I had an incredible phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday.

They’re usually great, but this one really hit all the nails: a ton of laughter, business updates, and vulnerability.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the multiplication of how much I value my friendships. I find it vital to go out of our way to visit and maintain communication with the people we share our lives with.

We all have those friends with whom we can go a year without talking to and then just pick right back up where we left off. That’s lovely…but if it’s a close friend, I see that as an utter waste.

Let me explain.

I’m 27. I started my own business this year, am single, and have no kids. I’ve never been more career-focused than I am right now.

All this to say I’m hyper-aware that we’re all living our own lives. We’re stressed. Many of us are still figuring out who we are and what we want. Some of us have families. It’s not like high school where we can spend every weeknight and weekend having fun with our buddies.

However, since that’s the case, there’s never been a better time than right now to sustain healthy and fulfilling friendships.

I’ve had…

• one of my best friends ghost me out of his life with no explanation to this day
• friends get arrested
• friends have quarter-life crises

It’s when we’re the most anxious, the busiest, and most overwhelmed that we need our friends the most.

If we let a year go by without any communication…yes, maybe we can pick right back up. That’s fine. But how many total hours of laughter, connection, and memories did we miss out on?

I love knowing what my friends are working on, are afraid of, and are thinking about on a consistent basis. I’m not saying I need to talk to them every single week, but more than twice a year is preferable.

We can start small. That friend we see once a year…we can bump that up to twice a year. We can set up a monthly call with our busy friends with kids.

It feels like work. Because it fucking is.

Let’s assume the major facets of life are health, wealth, and relationships (broadly speaking). I’ve noticed we put a ton of effort into working on our physical health, our mental health, and our careers, but we sort of expect our relationships to just take care of themselves.

When really they’re just like anything else important to us. They require effort, practice, and collaboration to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

When I’m an old ass man, I want to look back and think I’m glad I did…as opposed to I wish I had…

Right now, I’m so glad I had that phone call with my buddy. And I’m looking forward to visiting him in two weekends.

How to not be nervous around women

A man and a woman holding hands

There’s a video of Craig Ferguson I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

It’s his answer to: “How can I as a young man be better at talking to women?”

But I think it applies to all facets of life: making friends, being a great communicator, or building relationships in general.

His answer?

Treat every single human being with the same amount of love, respect, and honesty. It doesn’t matter what their sex, race, job, weight, or age is.

Be curious about people. Exchange stories. Ask questions. Try to build something together.

“Friendship happens on the way to something else. If you “try to meet new people” it feels weird and forced. The more you aim for friendship, the more it eludes you. But if you aim to learn or achieve something with others, friendship happens naturally during the shared pursuit.”

James Clear

Is people-pleasing so bad? (pt. 2)

People shaking hands during a meeting in a conference room

Last week, I wrote about how my mind has recently changed on the topics of people-pleasing, saying No, and protecting our time.

These are all things I’ve been working on for the past year as I run my own business. In order to sustain my health, wealth, and relationships, I have to set boundaries for how I expend my energy.

But where did this all begin for me?

In April. Here’s what happened.

After joining my online coaching program in March, in the span of one month, I was called out by four different colleagues for needlessly apologizing for things. I learned how hesitant I was to stand up for myself.

One of those colleagues was a woman who told me she decided to stop saying “Sorry” the month before.

I was struck by this. But it took me several months to understand how I felt about this philosophy. Well…here’s how I feel about it.

I tried it out for a month or two. To be honest, it felt fucking great.

The first thing I noticed was how automatic saying Sorry was. I would open my mouth to apologize for something I didn’t do or something I had no control over—a dog barking, a broken appliance, the fact that I wasn’t available for something. Catching myself, I would promptly close my mouth and that would be that.

No one got mad. No one seemed to be waiting for some sort of justification.

But then something happened which made me question the whole experiment: I fucked up.

I did something that made a friend upset and I felt awful about it. This highlighted my issue with the whole “I don’t say Sorry” thing…Humans make mistakes.

What happens when we do something worthy of an apology? Saying we don’t apologize is to assume we’re perfect creatures. I’m happy to have the words “I’m sorry” in my toolbelt.

So where’s the middle here?

For me, it’s not about not saying Sorry. It’s about not always saying Sorry.

If Sorry is our default then it means nothing. If we say Sorry five times in one minute then it means nothing. If we apologize for things we had no control over then what does it accomplish?

But if we instead save it for things that truly matter, our words and actions have more impact on the people around us. Now, my friends know I feel deeply sorry when I say so.

We don’t have to apologize for everything. We just have to be willing to apologize.