Rebirth of Reason

The Good Life

Handling Conflicts Productively
by Luke Setzer

To save much time, energy, and aggravation in conversations while concurrently avoiding conflicts that produce no value even when "won," follow this technique of the late millionaire Charles Givens. When striving to close a sale, a salesman will often seek to "overcome objections." This means winning the prospect to his side while diffusing any conflict over irrelevancies. Givens often used this phrase when closing a sale in the face of an objection:

"I can see exactly why you might feel that way. You have every right to feel that way."

Givens would then proceed to probe the prospect to see what other objections the prospect had, if any, before actually answering the objections of substance.

This technique works well in many situations outside sales. In places ranging from classrooms to boardrooms, upstarts like to play the "challenge and reply" game. In essence, they want to "challenge" your stated or implied position, thereby cleverly distracting you from your agenda and tricking you into following theirs. Before you let them get away with it, try this technique.

For example, you may find yourself unwittingly cornered by malefactors seeking to diminish your self-worth by criticizing you simply for being yourself. This relates to a mistake I used to make in my na´vetÚ when I actually thought smart adolescents and faculty at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) would argue in "good faith" rather than simply engaging in sophistry to win. Today, I know better. This phenomenon of posturing to "win at all costs" has no limits though I admit it caught me off guard at NCSSM. In any case, allow me to share a sample "before and after" dialogue:

"Doctor Who stinks and so do the people who love his show!" bellowed the unwelcome malefactor in the television lounge who wanted to watch something else.
"Hey!" I foolishly defended, "This is a great show!"
"It's flipping stupid!" screamed back the attacker.
Onward it went ad nauseum. Now for a more knowledgeable retake:

"Doctor Who stinks and so do the people who love his show!"
"I can see exactly why you might feel that way and you have every right to feel that way."
"Then let's change it to something else!"
"I was here first."
"But you just agreed with me that the show stinks!"
"No, I simply said you had the right to feel whatever you want to feel."
"But .... But .... But ...."

How about left-wing nut job history professors?

"Luke, what do you think of Howard Zinn's assessment of the European invasion of North America?"
"I think Howard Zinn is a Communist seeking to undermine Western values by bashing heroic men such as Christopher Columbus."
"I am sure a Native American would say something quite different."
"I can see exactly why you might feel that way and you have every right to feel that way."
"Do you have anything else to say?"

Notice here that the professor may score down a point or two on "class participation" for the terse closure. But as anyone knows who has read Brady Lessard's fine text Your Guide to Slide: The Slacker's Guide to College or K. P. Springfield's The Five Habits of Highly Successful Slackers (Because Seven Is Too Many), the slacker's key involves accomplishing results equivalent to those of the average person's in less than half the time, thereby freeing time to pursue more enjoyable activities. Unless you get a hormonal rush from "public master debating" sessions, this technique will serve you quite nicely toward that worthy end. A final grade of "B" will do nicely as well.

This approach applies likewise to social ethics. I am a straight man with healthy appetites. I enjoy dining at Hooters for the scenery as well as the food. I normally keep this to myself but even the best discretion sometimes fails. Imagine a feminist coed learning of my habit and confronting me about it:

"Luke, I cannot believe you would patronize such a sexist establishment! I feel severely disappointed in you! I thought you supported women's rights! You're just another pig! I swear I will never talk to you again if you go there!"
"I can see exactly why you might feel that way. You have every right to feel that way. Adios!"

In the end, this has everything to do with honoring the Self as the ultimate value. You must ultimately shape yourself into someone whose company you enjoy. Everyone else may withdraw from your life, but you still must live with yourself. So make sure you maintain a solid relationship with yourself even if others leave as a result. Over the long run, you will love and appreciate yourself for making those kinds of hard decisions. You will also naturally cull from your experience those who fail to share your "sense of life" which leads to more satisfying human relations and a more satisfying overall life experience.

People can argue all day long about who is "right" or "wrong" as the broad spectrum of today's news commentators and politicians shows. So let those irrelevant others "feel" they are right using this technique. Meanwhile, pause to savor how you have learned to save your precious time and energy for what you enjoy most without ever actually sanctioning your enemies.

Do you dislike my attitude and disagree with it? Really? Well!

I can see exactly why you might feel that way and you have every right to feel that way so ... adios!
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