172. Power of Productive Disagreement

172. Power of Productive Disagreement

Disagreement often produces conflicts and anxiety. No wonder why many people try to avoid conflict at all costs. But in a book called “Why are we yelling?”, Buster Benson argues that disagreement is unavoidable and is a sign of a healthy relationship. What is detrimental is “unproductive” disagreement. Political polarization and many social issues arose not from disagreement but unproductive disagreement that led to quick social imagination and name-calling, which only escalated existing anxieties.

To first learn how to engage in productive disagreement, the author divides the level of the disagreement we experience into three different areas: Head, Heart and Hand.

We often assume our disagreement is happening at the level of “head” (what is true?) or “hand”(what is useful?). But the majority of our disagreement happens at the level of “heart” (what is meaningful?), evidenced by the fact that hard facts or logical explanations don’t make the disagreement go away.

The reason is, what is meaningful often is subjective because our personal experience and interpretation largely shape it. If we are dealing with a differing view that is very personal and unique to an individual, then how are we supposed to engage with it?

The author says that we have a choice to listen to 4 different voices to handle the disagreement: Voice of power, reason, avoidance and possibility. Voice of power forcefully eliminates the conflict with intimidation, the voice of reason uses what is commonly believed to be true (usually by a group) to discourage disagreement, and the voice of avoidance moves the person away from engaging in any arguments. The author says it is the voice possibility that helps us to experience productive disagreement.

Those who listen to the voice of possibility do not try to defend their view but asks questions about others’ view with curiosity. When we ask questions to build an argument together, we avoid having to concede defeat when we turn out to be wrong. And we might experience a pleasant surprise of arriving at an unexpected conclusion.

I think the Holy Spirit mainly speaks in the voice of possibility. He often suggests a different way of looking at people, with a lens of “hope,” which is a divine possibility. And, our experience proves that we came to a surprising conclusion about certain people more often than not.

It is easy to quickly categorize people as good or bad, and beneficial or non-beneficial based on our interpretation. But when we choose to engage with people who disagree with us by listening to the voice possibility, our lives will be so much more fruitful with unexpected growth and connection.