Ever notice how easy it is for a simple conversation to escalate into World War 3 when two people disagree?

Imagine this.  You’re in a meeting.  Fred says the right approach is option A.  Bob says the right approach is option B.  Then Fred and Bob spend the rest of the meeting trying to prove to each other that they are right.  Result?  No decision is made;  Fred and Bob are now not on speaking terms and will probably badmouth each other after the meeting;  and the rest of the people in the room are either entertained, bored, or shocked, but no closer to the decision they need.

Righteous or influential

There’s not a person on this planet who doesn’t like being right.  But being right and being influential are two different things.

If the most important thing for you is to be right at all costs, stop reading right now.  This blog isn’t for you.

However if you want to maximise your chances of getting results with and through others – even when they don’t agree with you – read on.

Verbal Aikido

Tony Robbins wrote: “There is no such things as resistance, there are only inflexible communicators who push at the wrong time and in the wrong direction.”  He likens good communicators to aikido masters, who do not meet force with force, but rather use the momentum of their opponents’ force and guide it to a new direction.

Here are four steps that will put a damper on arguments while allowing you to have your say, maintain your dignity, and multiply your influence.

Step 1: Notice your resistance

What happens for you when you’re resisting what someone else has to say?  Do you stop listening to them?  Fold your arms?  Have a little conversation in your head about how stupid they are?

It’s important to be able to notice when you’re closing yourself off to others.  Resistance creates rigidity, and you’re aiming for flexibility.  Plus, resistance is a good indicator that it’s time for you to trot out step number 2.

Step 2: Identify where you agree

This one is going to be hard if you have the complete opposite opinion to someone else.  But there will always be an area where you agree.

For example, you may not like how someone wants to solve a problem, but you can agree that the problem exists.  You may also both have the same intent.  Robbins discusses debates over nuclear arms where the two opposite sides of the debate actually have the same intent:  security.

Step 3: Align yourself with the parts you agree on

Take what you’ve identified in step 2 one step further and get specific about something that you agree with and would not be disputed.  Can you agree that your opponent is committed or passionate?  Is it true that they’ve dedicated a huge amount of discretionary time and effort?  Is it fair to say that you both agree that solving this problem is the team’s highest priority?

These specific points of agreement become your fuel for step 4.

Step 4: Redirect the conversation

Tony Robbins suggests three phrases, all three of which should never include the word “but.”   As soon as you say “but,” you’re resisting what they have to say. Instead, use “and.”

Robbins suggests:

“I appreciate (insert what you specifically appreciate), and …”

“I respect (insert what you specifically respect), and …”

“I agree (insert what you specifically agree with), and …”

Remember, these must be things you truly appreciate, respect, or agree with.  This is about maintaining your integrity while you maintain your flexibility.  If you try to sweet talk someone, they’re likely to see right through it and you’re no closer to collaboration.

Try this aikido move on for size

Let’s say there’s an HR process at your workplace which some people think disadvantages some employees.  Your colleague is dead keen on scrapping the process altogether, but you think that the process, while flawed, just needs some tuning.

Prior to reading this blog, you might innocently respond to your angry colleague by saying, “There’s no way we can scrap the process, and anyway, we haven’t got anything better.”  Seems reasonable, but in reality it will create increased resistance in your colleague.  You’ve flat out disagreed with them and in their mind you’re either overruling them or telling them they’re stupid.

Try this aikido master response on for size.  “I really appreciate your desire and commitment to make this process fair for everyone, and I think there may be a better way than scrapping the process altogether.”  This response is much less likely to inflame further argument, and is far more likely to lead to a reasonable, collaborative search for solutions.

So next time a simple conversation is about to escalate in a conflict situation, pull out your aikido moves and have your say – without sparking World War 3.


Debbie Thompson is a leadership coach who combines her years in leadership positions with her love of coaching high achievers to outstanding results.  She works to help managers, leaders and business owners master “that leadership thing” so that they get more clarity, have more impact, and multiply their influence.