It’s human nature to believe strongly that you are right when you are arguing with someone, and that the other person is wrong. In today’s polarized world, it is a very common occurrence. Some years ago, I found myself in such a situation when the co-authors of our book, Conflict—The Unexpected Gift, and I were deeply engaged in a nearly four year effort to write the first edition of the book.
We co-authors had agreed at the outset of our writing project that we would not divide up the chapters to be written—a method that co-authors commonly choose. Rather, we set for ourselves the goal of working together as a team, with all of us combining our various insights in order to write each chapter.
We soon found ourselves in a conflict. When it came time for us to agree on how we wanted to explain a key concept, which we called the “Ladder of Assumptions,” in the very first chapter, we were unable to arrive at a consensus. I held firmly to my view of how to put forth the concept, while the other three authors seemed to fairly quickly reach an understanding of how they thought it should be presented.
I justified what I believed to be the right way to get the concept across to our future readers by explaining to my fellow authors that my life experience formed a very sound basis for my position. My fellow authors didn’t buy it, saying: “How can you not see it our way? It’s much sounder than yours. You’re just too stubborn to admit it.”
I responded: “Your way won’t work at all. How can you not see that? I’m right, you’re wrong. Why can’t you admit it?” I went on to tell them that I was unable to evaluate their position because the case they were making for it was based on their life experience, which was totally foreign to me. Privately, I had to admit to myself that I had been blocking out their views with which I disagreed, and that I had made no progress at all in convincing them they were wrong.
Seeing that I was outvoted and was making no headway at all in getting them to see the error of their ways, I reluctantly waved the proverbial white flag and told them I would accede to their viewpoint. After all, I felt we had to find some way to reach agreement and finish writing the chapter.
To my great surprise, as soon as I folded my tent, I found my mind opening ever so slightly to what they had been saying. Bit by bit, my mind continued to open wider. Unbelievably, it wasn’t long before I became satisfied with their approach to explaining the concept of the Ladder of Assumptions.
What did I learn from this give-and-take with my fellow authors? I discovered that as long as I was putting all my energy into defending my viewpoint and not backing down from it, my mind could not take in anything that was worthwhile in what they had to say. It was only after I was willing to yield my position for the greater good of finishing the writing of the chapter that I could begin to see the validity of their approach.
I found there was always something worth learning from my fellow authors’ viewpoints. When I gained a new perspective on what they had been saying, our conflict stopped functioning as a barrier to consensus and ultimately became a bridge to understanding ourselves better.
To a large extent our thoughts determine our feelings and behavior. Automatically believing that whatever we hold onto firmly to be “the truth” can close the door to new understandings and more effective teamwork. Sometimes others help us become aware of mindsets we have that we don’t realize are limiting us. When we are willing to consider and give full credit to viewpoints other than our own, we open our minds not only to fresh insights but also to improved relationships with others.