Apr 15, 2021 • 1HR 2M

The Art of Productive Disagreements

A conversation with Ian Leslie about how arguments can also bring us together.

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Laëtitia Vitaud
A European forum featuring inspiring global thinkers
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For this new episode of the Building Bridges podcast, I’m excited to share my interview with Ian Leslie, a journalist and author of several books on human behaviour. His latest book, Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes should be made compulsory reading in all the schools of the world. 

Disagreement improves our decisions, sparks new ideas, and, counterintuitively, brings us closer together — but only if we do it well. Right now we’re doing it terribly. We either get into fights or, more likely, avoid disagreements altogether, because we find them so stressful. This is a hard skill that neither evolution nor society has equipped us with, but it’s one we all need to learn, because it’s critical to the success of any shared enterprise, from a marriage to a business to a democracy. Isn’t it high time we gave more thought to how we disagree better?

Like a lot of other animals we humans respond to threat with two tactics: fight or flight. Either we become very hostile or we do everything we can to avoid any kind of argument. But both these reactions are completely dysfunctional. The internet isn’t helping: social media are designed to turn what could be productive exchanges into useless cockfights in a public arena.

The counterintuitive truth is that we need conflicts to move forward and live and work together more happily. Conflicts can bring us closer. “Couples and teams are happier when they are in the habit of passionate disagreement. Conflict can draw people together.” That’s why the author devotes the second half of the book to his 10 “rules of productive argument” to help us get better at disagreeing with others.

Establish a relationship of trust with the other person, accept them for who they are, try and make them feel good about themselves, consider that you might be perceived as “weird” by the other person, be curious about their point of view and actually listen to what they have to say...and above all else be real and honest when you interact with them. 

The stories told in the book and the insights shared show this guide to productive disagreement is indispensable reading. I found this conversation with Ian fascinating. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed having it! Do not forget to share it with people who might be interested ⚔️ 💌


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  • Also Building Bridges is part of a network of Substack newsletters, which you may want to discover: there’s my Laetitia@Work (about the future of work, with a feminist perspective), and Nicolas’s Colin European Straits (about the Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe).

(Credit: Franz Liszt, Angelus ! Prière Aux Anges Gardiens—extrait du disque Miroirs de Jonas Vitaud, NoMadMusic.)