How to Disagree Better

Many organizations across the nation are promoting civic health and respectful public discourse despite our differences – including Braver Angels. They are a leading cross-partisan, volunteer-led movement in bridging partisan division in the U.S. through community gatherings, real debates, and grassroots leaders working together.

They have a chapter here in Washington state that is working in our local communities, holding workshops and public presentations designed to bridge the rising political polarization in our country.

In October 2023, the Project for Civic Health hosted a day-long summit which was opened by keynote speaker Mónica Guzmán, Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, journalist, and the author of The New York Times recommended book I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

Our summit also held a panel which included writer, rancher, and columnist Sue Lani Madsen – one of the Braver Angels coordinators in Washington state.

Braver Angels regularly hosts workshops with the goal of understanding the values, perspectives, and concerns of those who differ from us. One of these workshops is called “Listen, Acknowledge, Pivot, Perspective (LAPP)” that emphasizes those four skills:

  • Listen carefully:
    • Turn off your inner debater and don’t prepare your response yet.
    • Be ready to to summarize what the other person is saying.
    • Focus both on the other person’s point of view and their underlying values and concerns.
    • Look for something to agree with if possible.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s view before you share your own perspective:
    Most political conversations go this way: “You say up, I say down; you say hot, I say cold; you say my candidate is terrible and I say yours is worse.” The principle behind the Acknowledge skill is to connect first before you disagree.

    Acknowledging means letting the other person know that you heard their viewpoint and the strength of the feelings, values, and concerns about it. You are feeding back what you heard without just parroting back their words.
  • Pivot
    A pivot signals that you are about to offer your own point of view. Think of a pivot as signaling that you are going to make a turn in your car, though the actual turn comes later. Examples: “Can I offer my thoughts on this?” or “This is something I’ve thought a lot about.”

    If the other person seems open to listening to what you have to say, then continue. If not, if they just repeat their point, ignore your pivot, or show wariness about taking your turn (verbally or nonverbally), then consider backing up.
  • Perspective
    Elements to consider:
    • I-statements rather than Truth-statements (e.g., “This is how I see it” as opposed to “This is how it is.”)
    • Name your sources
    • Share a life experience or personal story behind your point of view
    • Try to mention something you agree with
    • Avoid negative labels
    • Avoid “You Democrats/Republicans” language; instead, focus on the people in the conversation rather than lumping anyone into a larger group.

We commend groups like Braver Angels that are working in our community to strengthen the skills needed to disagree better.

Does your group help improve our state’s civic health? Let us know!