Posted on: November 1st, 2017 by Jen Mueller

We’re doing this wrong. Any child will tell you the truth. Name-calling isn’t nice. Yelling at someone isn’t polite. And there’s value in practicing the Golden Rule. Those standards of decorum are enforced in kindergarten classrooms everywhere, but less likely to be practiced by adults.

Here’s what I’m getting at – we’re not disagreeing like adults.

It doesn’t matter the topic. The mode, method and delivery are missing the mark just about everywhere you look. Disagreements happen and differing opinions exist. So does a better way of handling those situations.

I talk for a living. I actually talk sports for a living. But more importantly I talk to human beings for a living. After nearly two decades in sports, I’m well-practiced at asking questions, assessing the environment and engaging in conversations. I don’t always agree with what people say, decisions that are made or the way opinions get expressed, but it’s still my job to provide information and present different points of view with a level of tact.


  1. Sharpen Your Senses. Watching life through a screen (television, smart phone, tablet) stimulates your emotions, but dulls your senses. This leads to a lack of empathy and understanding. Using your senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, feel) to assess a situation can help you navigate, and maybe even diffuse a tense conversation by seeing how the other person is affected.
  2. Avoid Being “Never” Minded. Here’s another way to say it, avoid judging people’s actions or comments based on what you would never For example, a statement like; “I would never stay up past midnight on a work night,” seems innocuous because it’s a true statement about you. If you’re not careful however, it can lead to you making judgements against someone who does what you would never do. Avoid using any variation of the phrase, “I would never do that.” It’s one of the most practical ways to demonstrate having an open mind.
  3. Respond Instead of React. This isn’t a gameshow. The first person to react doesn’t score a point or win a prize. You can, however, win respect by formulating an appropriate response. Show discernment with your words. Your response can still be one of disagreement, but demonstrate discipline to avoid adding fuel to a potentially explosive interaction.
  4. Agree to disagree – from the beginning. That phrase is often used to bring a disagreement to a somewhat peaceful conclusion. It shouldn’t be the end of the conversation it should be the beginning. When you agree to differing viewpoints from the outset you change the purpose of the entire interaction. It becomes a fact-finding mission. You’re not fighting to win a debate. As a result, you’re less concerned with keeping score and interested in what the other person is actually saying. You’re less likely to get distracted trying to remember your counterpoints. In addition, both parties are more likely to listen with empathy and understanding when it’s determined up front neither person is keeping score.
  5. Commit to tunnel vision. I know you are smart enough to link a single debate or topic to a myriad of other discussion points, but as an adult I also know you also have the ability to keep the main thing the main thing. Show restraint. Stay on topic. Agree on the real issue being discussed and resist the urge to add additional layers to the conversation.

I engage in back and forth conversations daily about trivial matters like, “How do you define an MVP season?” “What stats matter most?” or “Who’s the best quarterback of all time?”

They’re typical sports conversations, ones that help you practice face-to-face interactions in low-leverage situations. Sure, those debates can turn heated with overly-passionate fans, but in general sports scores and highlight-driven discussions (i.e. biggest plays of the game, best player performances, etc., discussions related directly to game-action, not social causes.) are a good way to practice, not just your conversation skills, but your ability to disagree like an adult.

Disagreements are going to happen. Make sure you have the skills to handle those situations graciously and position yourself in the best possible way. I bet you’d hate to find out you weren’t even considered for a project or promotion because of your ineffectiveness in dealing with disagreements. Start practicing today and for conversation strategies, pick up my new book The Influential Conversationalist. It takes you through daily conversation that build leadership potential and includes insight from some of the professional athletes I work with.

Influential Conversationalist, Jen Mueller is the author of three books, the founder of Talk Sporty to Me and a professional sports broadcaster. She currently serves as the Seattle Seahawks radio sideline reporter and is a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast team. She’s got a unique approach to business communication and presents compelling content in corporate training sessions. For inquires, or to hire Jen email her directly: