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Connection: resolve conflict with Rapoport’s Rules

Remember the question associated with CONNECTION, the 4th C of trustworthiness?

“Do they believe I understand them?”

Or when considering a 1:1 relationship, “Does she believe I understand her?”

It’s much easier to connect with someone you agree with. You are already in alignment.

Much harder to connect with someone who disagrees with you. How do you get them to believe you understand them?

Daniel Dennett, in his book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, shares Anatol Rapoport’s (Russian-born American psychologist) practical strategy for building connection and opening the window to persuasion. When having an argument with someone, follow these steps:

  1. Attempt to re-express the other person’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that he might say, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. Mention anything new you have learned from the other person’s argument.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

By following these steps the other person will feel understood.

And if your rebuttal is rational, reasonable, supported with facts and/or examples, and delivered with respect, you might also change his mind.

Wouldn’t that be a refreshing outcome in our polarized culture?

People don’t need to get their way all the time; they don’t even need to necessarily win the argument. But they do need to feel heard and understood if they are going to trust and be persuadable.


Be a High-Trust Leader: follow Rapoport’s Rules to build CONNECTION with those who disagree with you.

TRAINING TIPS:  you can’t learn a new skill without practice. How can you practice applying Rapoport’s Rules?  Start with friendly arguments that don’t have a lot of emotional investment. Here are examples of low-key topics of common disagreements:

You get the idea. See if you can practice stepping through Rapoport’s Rules over and over in low-key disagreements until they become second nature. Then you can apply them when emotions run high. I have found that Rule #1 changes the tone of the argument dramatically, often catching the other person completely off-guard. Same with #2.  By Rule #3, the other person’s thinking, “What’s he up to?” Try it!

Imagine a TV political debate that required the participants to play by Rapoport’s Rules.

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