How Can You Learn to Argue Constructively?

Today, it often feels as though the art of arguing constructively is a thing of the past.

Would you like to have more productive discussions? Learning to argue constructively will help you build rather than breakdown relationships.

How many of us have been engaged in arguments, whether at work, with our spouse, or even online, where the situation has quickly escalated from civil to an all-out civil war?

It seems we’ve forgotten the important rules of engagement and the nuances of debate. All issues are now black and white—right or wrong. There’s no room for grey area.

Yet so many situations exist in the grey zone. If we want to engage productively—to argue constructively—we can think of engagement as a continuum rather than an on/off or yes/no discussion. Here’s how to argue constructively and productively rather than simply spinning your wheels.

Misunderstandings Are Just That: Failure to Understand

Two students of ours were having dinner recently with their brother-in-law and his wife. Going into the evening, they knew the four of them did NOT agree on politics. In fact, they had doubts about finding any common ground at all.

But rather than starting out on the defensive, they decided to approach the interaction in a more engaged, constructive manner. They set their intention to learn from the interaction. When they went to dinner, the couples ended up interviewing each other on their political positions and the path they took to come into those viewpoints.

Rather than arguing and attempting to convince the “other side” that their stance was simply wrong, they took a step back and listened. Both sides agreed to approach it in the same manner. What unfolded was a very productive conversation. In fact, both couples became enlightened to the valid elements from each position because they were open to hearing one another.

Many of us go into conversations already assuming there will be a disagreement, but if we shift our assumptions, we will experience a much better interaction.

In our book, The Heart of the Fight, Judith and I discuss the importance of following the Rules of Engagement. One of the important rules is to “assume goodwill” from your partner in each interaction.

Assuming goodwill isn’t limited to arguments between couples, however. Assuming goodwill is an important skill to bring into any conversation. The truth is, most people genuinely want to get along. They don’t want to hurt others with their viewpoints, but they want to be heard. In fact, yearning to be seen and heard is universal. As human beings, we all yearn to be respected and listened to by our peers.

When we go into arguments, there are often various degrees of consciousness we display. Many people go in with a pre-recorded message in their heads. They know the point they want to make and assume they know the intent of the other party. There are certain ways they approach the interaction and certain methods to go into the cases they argue about. They’ve already played it out in their minds.

Other people argue on the defense. There’s something about themselves they don’t want to see or learn. They may even know there’s a kernel (or more than a kernel) of truth to the counterargument, but they know they don’t want to acknowledge the differing point-of-view.

Arguments aren’t conversations. They aren’t discussions or even debates. Arguments are often high-pitched battles, where neither side walks away with more knowledge. In fact, arguments aren’t even very interesting, because there’s no conclusion to the conversation. If there’s a legitimate subject on the table to explore, then it becomes a discussion.

Understanding Each Other to Better Understand Ourselves

I have a friend who holds a Ph.D. in economics. We’ve had many debates (and I’ve lost every single one). Through these discussions, my friend has taught me a great deal about global economics, strategy, and new ideas I would have never understood if I mindlessly debated. It’s been interesting to watch him poke holes in my opinions. In many ways, it’s helped me refine my ideas in different ways I would have never thought of, had I simply argued with my buddy.

For better discussions and deeper engagement, we should approach interactions with understanding and a desire to learn from the other person.

As I said earlier, engagement can be thought of as a continuum. Conversations in which we’re disengaged may include avoidance, stonewalling, silent treatment, or simply being zoned out. These forms of engagement are even destructive to our relationships.

There’s also mis-engagement. When we avoid conflict by walking on eggshells, sticking to non-personal conversation topics, or engaging in repetitive, non-productive fights, it may feel like we’re engaged, but we’re not engaged constructively. Actively destructive engagement like criticizing, attacking, insulting, and acting defensive will also destroy our relationships.

Instead, constructive, creative engagement means holding active, meaningful, intimate conversations. We express our feelings. We’re genuine and truthful, but approach topics with the hope of discovery and greater fulfillment. On the highest end of the Engagement Continuum are transformative encounters that benefit the world-at-large.

Unfortunately, many conversations exist on the destructive or neutral end of the Engagement Continuum. We may approach arguments with a simple pro or con perspective. We lose the logic in the discussion and break into full arguments.

Instead, we can listen to both sides of a discussion. This doesn’t mean compromising your values or letting go of your perspective. But if you want to be listened to, you must also learn to listen. It’s the power of listening to others that helps arguments become discussions rather than non-productive spats.

Online Arguments Are Often One-Sided

When thinking about how to argue constructively, one’s mind turns to the internet. Our interactions on social media, in particular, are prime examples of mis-engagement, disengagement, and destructive interactions.

If we look at many of the arguments people are holding online these days, we see how they’ve become one-sided. The internet prevents us from having a conversation. One of the saddest aspects of today’s dialogue is so many people are busy yelling their opinions, as though their opinions matter more than others.

We all want to matter, but the internet allows for a false sense of importance. We rarely carry on a meaningful conversation or productive discussion without being face-to-face.

I’m struck by how many of our students report they’re too busy living life—doing the things that really matter—rather than arguing on the internet and sharing their opinions. It’s not really worth talking about a topic on the internet unless we actually want to change the way people engage in a discussion online.

We’re at an interesting junction in the history of the world and in the way we communicate with each other. There are many everchanging issues to talk about and discuss. Dialogue is important, but we should approach it from an engaged, conscious, responsible place.

Think of your next discussion like an interview, rather than an opportunity to scream your opinions. If you know you disagree with their point of view, interview them. Find out how they came to their current conclusions and why. Use this information to help you discern which areas you are viewing from a limited and mistaken perspective. If we’re not holding a dialogue about our world, we can’t change our world into a conscious, responsible place.

For more ways to engage with others, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll meet others on their journey toward transformation. We also offer many of our courses online for a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your world!

About the Author

Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.


How to Discover Your Hidden Talents & Share with Others

We all have talents and abilities we can grow and develop throughout our lives.

In fact, when you express a desire to discover your hidden talents, it’s often stemming from the idea you need to discover some previously unknown piece of yourself. The more empowering way to look at it is that we can all become better at anything we want to do; all we need is deliberate practice to develop our abilities. You may have heard it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, so there’s no better time than the present to get started.

The potential is within you to become better at nearly any activity you want to pursue and here’s how to tap into your potential. If you’re hoping to discover a latent talent or wishing you were a “natural” at a certain task, here’s how to shift your mentality.

Discovering Your Hidden Talents vs. Growing Your Abilities

When we think of talent, we often think of elite athletes, musicians, and entertainers. We assume most of them discovered hidden talents they were born with.

But believing you’re born with hidden talents is akin to believing there’s only “one” person out there for you. After all, what if your hidden talent was playing the French horn, but you never picked up the instrument? What if you have a hidden talent for lacrosse but it’s never discovered because you don’t know how to play the game?

The way we look at it, talent is actually overrated. You can’t really discover your hidden talent because talent isn’t really something you’re born with, but something you develop over time.

The people who experience mastery are that way because they’ve practiced and practiced, putting in thousands and tens of thousands of hours.

None of us come out of the womb knowing how to dance, or sing, or play the piano. We’ve heard of child prodigies and savants, of course, but that’s very rare (if it even really occurs at all) and requires an extreme environment. Some studies show even children who test with very high IQs at a young age may simply possess a stronger desire to please others, rather than inherent genius. Many go on to live relatively ordinary lives, while many people who achieve greatness never displayed extreme genius or innate talent as children.

The truth is, anyone can develop capacity. Yes, in my current stage in life, I will probably not become a great basketball player or a prima ballerina, but it doesn’t mean I can’t develop a tremendous level of mastery in the topics that interest me…and so can you!

Part of the issue when it comes to talent is that we don’t always know what we’re going to enjoy or align with. We may play golf once and find we’re terrible. So, we shrug it off and say, “I don’t have any talent at golf.” We put away the clubs and never try it again.

But what if instead, you hit the greens every day. If you put in the work, grit, and practice, in a few years, you could probably become quite good. It comes back to what researcher Cheryl Dweck points out as a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset, or as she calls it, “the power of yet.”

For example, if you face a challenge, what if you re-frame it as a task you haven’t YET mastered rather than something you can’t do? “I haven’t mastered watercolor painting, YET,” or “I haven’t figured out how to resolve this computer error, YET.”

In Dweck’s study, students who displayed a fixed mindset showed less brain activity, where as those who displayed a growth mindset—the idea they just hadn’t mastered a task “YET”—showed all sorts of brain activity across many areas. Their minds were literally lit up with the potential of growing, engaging, and getting better.

How to Cultivate Your Spark

As we grow and develop our new found abilities, we can share them with the world around us. We might feel scared at first. After all, what if someone laughs at us or makes us feel silly?

In our classes, we often use kinesthetic learning—incorporating activity into the learning to help solidify concepts.  We may ask participants to engage in a dance party with us. For many participants, this is challenging. For some, it may even be the most challenging part of the experience. Why? Because many of us believe we aren’t “good” at dancing.

The truth is, whether you’re Misty Coupland or Loraine from Seinfeld, dancing abilities really aren’t pertinent in the situation. It’s about letting yourself loosen up, moving your body, connecting with others, and having fun.

We all face moments where we feel self-conscious or like we’re not good enough to share our abilities with others. Once you discover your hidden talent (or more importantly honed your gifts), how do you let go of that feeling of inferiority?

Adler taught that we all develop inferiority complexes from the time we’re very small. You see, as babies, we’re tiny people operating in a big adult world. There are many restrictions and activities we can’t do when we’re younger. Because we’re constantly being discouraged and experiencing setbacks during these formative years, many of us are instilled with the belief we still can’t do what we want.

These early belief patterns are referred to as limiting beliefs. We may believe we’re too quiet, our voice isn’t good enough, we will never learn to draw, we aren’t good at playing an instrument. Rather than pushing ourselves and allowing ourselves to learn and make mistakes, we try, fail, and throw in the towel. Failure reinforces these limiting beliefs and puts us in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. We fall back into a fixed mindset.

Embracing a growth mindset includes embracing the idea that we have elastic brains. We learn, grow, and develop ourselves throughout our lives. A fixed mindset says, “you know, I’m not good at that,” or “I’m stupid,” or even, “I’m smart.” It doesn’t allow you to grow and make mistakes, which are really part of the journey.

So, in order to really find out what your gifts and talents are, you need to engage in life and find out what you’re interested in. Rather than deciding, “Well, I’m great at this, so it’s my talent,” you have to work at it. You engage with new activities and experiences.

I’ve discovered many abilities and gifts just by engaging and having new experiences. We often see this discovery reflected in our leadership training. It’s so beautiful to see people move out of their comfort zones and attempt all different sorts of activities. They may try project management, leadership, new outdoor tasks—heck, even learning how to run a tractor! We’ve had students help with photoshoots, working on makeup, and doing all sorts of different activities. We’ve had students write and discover they express themselves beautifully in ways they never thought possible.

Whenever people get new opportunities to try something outside of their norm, they may discover, “Oh my goodness, I’m really interested in this!”

If you don’t find the opportunities to explore these new pursuits and interests, you may not even realize it’s something you enjoy and can cultivate. If you believe there’s only one area you’re comfortable in or believe you must find the perfect niche, you narrow your ability to discover all sorts of pursuits. If we keep our lives too narrow, we’re never going to discover what our gifts and talents could really grow into.

It’s Okay to Be Just Okay

You can see how the idea of a hidden talent just waiting to be discovered is a bit laughable. In reality, to become good at something, you need to practice over and over. Just because you fail once (or a hundred times) doesn’t mean you won’t eventually become good at the activity.

After all, most of us are pretty talented when it comes to walking. But as infants, how many of us struggled with those first few steps? Everyone! Imagine if you’d decided this whole “walking thing” isn’t for you. You’d feel pretty ridiculous crawling down the hall to your next meeting, wouldn’t you?

We all fall down. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t isn’t talent. It’s about how many times they keep going after they fail.

You don’t need to be the best at something in order for it to be considered a gift or a talent. In fact, you offer a huge contribution to others simply by engaging and participating. It doesn’t need to be at the Olympic level.

Let’s say you enjoy playing an instrument like the piano. Maybe you’re not great at it, but you enjoy playing and you enjoy being around children. Playing simple tunes for kids and teaching them new songs could be a blast. In fact, a concert pianist may not even be the right fit for playing kids songs. The role is much better suited for someone who enjoys children and has a basic piano ability for that particular task.

There was a time we had a couple’s group I really wanted to lead at the Wright Foundation. My idea for the group was way beyond where this particular group was. I wanted to focus on huge, visionary topics like building intimacy. This group simply wasn’t there yet.

I ended up handing group leadership over to a newer employee who was just beginning her journey and learning alongside the group. She was a much better fit. Yes, I could have led the group, but in all actuality, she was perfect for the situation and served them beautifully.

It’s not always about having expertise or superior abilities. Sometimes you’re simply more aligned with the dynamic of a current situation or task.

We often don’t even realize some of our gifts. If you’re looking to discover your hidden talent, you may overlook some areas of strength you could cultivate and grow. For example, sometimes painful experiences are a gift. Perhaps something in your upbringing or a way you were mistreated in the past will lead you to have a particular understanding of others. It may help you realize how to treat people. That wound, that tender spot, can actually be one of your gifts.

The perspective you gain from your experiences is a huge gift. Your cultural heritage is a huge gift. Your struggles, your circumstances, and your childhood can all be gifts to you as well.

I worked with adults who had severe mental challenges. Many of them were cognitively impaired, but they offered amazing gifts with their being, their presence, and their laughter. It was huge. They were quick to connect and offer affection and love. I don’t know if I ever had better hugs than those I received from that group.

Each of us has amazing gifts that are ours to discover as we engage in life. When we do discover them, we develop them, so we shine even more and use them to help others in our world.

If you keep pursuing your interests, you will get better and better. Eventually, you’ll grow your abilities into something you’ll contribute to the world. There are so many needs, and for everyone to contribute is a beautiful idea.

For more on discovering your gifts, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll connect with others and discover new and exciting aspects of yourself!

 About the Author

Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.