Langevin Blog

“Let’s have a good clean fight!” – Dealing with Disagreement

June 9th, 2011

As trainers, we are often agents of change. Knowing how people tend to feel about change, that adds some challenges to our work. When people react negatively to us, it can range in feeling from a difference of opinion to an outright verbal boxing match.

In boxing, the referee starts every bout with some basic rules: no holding, pushing, tripping, biting, hitting below the belt, etc.; if only that could be true of arguments. Whatever your arguing style is, some tactics are fair and constructive while others are just plain dirty. Here is a breakdown of some unfair and usually counter-productive arguing tactics.


People often say “Our clients are saying that …” because it supports their position. In reality they know that three people out of a thousand recent clients have actually expressed views that support the arguer’s position.


Bringing an unrelated issue into a discussion is a popular way to “muddy” the waters or complicate the proceedings, which can serve an arguer’s interests at the time.


People might verbally detour an issue or avoid answering a question because it does not support their position. This can be done by entangling or by nitpicking an irrelevant detail about the issue.

Personal Attacks

A common use of intimidation during an argument, this involves referring to an adversary’s personality and using name-calling as a way to invalidate his or her position in the discussion.


An arguer may present the opponent’s position with exaggerated terms to show how that point of view becomes invalid under what are really unrealistic suppositions.


Someone might trivialize or reduce the perceived value of outcomes that support the opponent’s position or that devalue his or her position.

The best way to handle one of these tactics when you come across it is to become the referee. Diplomatically explain how that person’s last statement does not help address the issue. You can then call it what it is: a generalization, an exaggeration, or so on. Finally, follow up with a short rundown of the points on which you agree and the ones on which you still don’t. Hopefully, this will help resolve disputes in a more objective way.

There are more in-depth analyses of unfair arguing tactics online. Consider this an “everyday guide” to identifying the most common ones. Keep in mind, people aren’t usually aware that they are using these tactics; it is often a subconscious process. If you calmly and objectively address them, you stack the odds in favor of a solution, rather than in favor of one of the fighters in the verbal boxing ring.


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