If you missed Part I of this two-part series, or want to refresh your memory, Please click here:

So, if directly contradicting doesn’t work so well, what do we do instead?

Here’s a tiny sampling of tips:

Ask sincerely curious questions

Say, you’d ideally like Charlie to correct his mispronunciation, especially since he will soon be representing the committee at an interdenominational meeting. But you don’t want to lose his good will. You could ask Charlie, “How would you like to come across in the interdenominational meeting?” or “How would you like the other people in the interdenominational meeting to think of us after the meeting is over?” 

Notice that these are open questions. They can’t be answered yes or no.  Open questions are less threatening. They elicit thought, elaboration, and more accurate answers.

Charlie might say, “I’d like them to respect us and to know that we are intelligent, thoughtful people.” In that case, you can then ask permission to offer a suggestion on how to make that impression.

Or Charlie might say, “I want them to know that we aren’t a bunch of elitist intellectual snobs. We don’t care about people’s backgrounds and status. We value everyone, high or low, rich or poor, brainy or ordinary.” In that case you might either drop the “indigent” issue, like Abby, or take Bill’s approach of casually working “indigent” into your conversation, and leave Charlie to get it or not

Listen and paraphrase

You can paraphrase Charlie and ask him if you understood correctly, “If I’m following you, you want the other denominations’ representatives to respect that we know what we’re doing when it comes to ministering to the homeless. Is that right?”

This makes Charlie feel good, and less threatened. He knows that you want to understand him. He feels valued and respected, which is the opposite of threatened. All of this tempers resistance if you now decide to discuss pronunciation.

An ancillary benefit: when someone keeps butting in and repeating themself, that’s because they think you didn’t get their point the first five times they stated it. They usually tune you out while you’re making your point, attempting to think of a better way to state their own point. 

Paraphrasing uses different words to express the same idea. Once Charlie agrees that you got his point, there’s no reason for him to think of a better way to state it. You maximize the chance that he will now listen to you.

If you try all this, and there’s no other way but for you to come right out and make someone wrong, by showing interest in and respect for the other you’ve laid a groundwork that minimizes their sense of being made wrong, and therefore, reduces resistance.

You can ask for permission, “May I tell you something I’d want others to know if I were going to that meeting?”


So my Silver Rule of Consensus is:  when you want to reach agreement with an individual, avoid making that person wrong or minimize the wrong making. Ask open questions about the other person’s interests. Paraphrase the answers, and check that you got their point. Then express your opinion respectfully.

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