Let's Agree to Disagree
eBook - ePub

Let's Agree to Disagree

A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy

Nolan Higdon, Mickey Huff

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eBook - ePub

Let's Agree to Disagree

A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy

Nolan Higdon, Mickey Huff

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About This Book

In an age defined by divisive discourse and disinformation, democracy hangs in the balance. Let's Agree to Disagree seeks to reverse these trends by fostering constructive dialogue through critical thinking and critical media literacy. This transformative text introduces readers to useful theories, powerful case studies, and easily adoptable strategies for becoming sharper critical thinkers, more effective communicators, and critically media literate citizens.

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Part I


As the late feminist scholar bell hooks once noted, “Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue.”1 hooks reminds us that, how people relate and share information with each other is as consequential as the validity of their messages. As a result, we begin our text by centering the importance of salubrious communication that accounts for the differing ways people interpret messages and the world around them. In Chapter 1, Create Constructive Dialogue, we explore processes of fostering constructive dialogue and effective conflict management as well as suggest ways to avoid destructive communication habits. Our hope is that readers will become more critical and compassionate listeners who keep conversations going, and feel comfortable agreeing and disagreeing with others.
In Chapter 2, Reflect on Communication Practices, we historicize the contemporaneous debates and practices that shape Americans’ ability to engage in constructive dialogue. We delve into the history of free speech, free press, and free expression and argue that censorship and cancel culture are not productive ways to mitigate differences or build understanding between various groups in society. These first two chapters serve as a foundation for the rest of the text which further expands readers to build critical thinking and communicative skillsets. We hope that when taken together, these two chapters help readers. We hope you find these chapters as useful as they are informative.

Chapter 1

Create Constructive Dialogue

“I have worked a working-class job. I have waited tables in restaurants. I have ridden the subway. I have walked the streets in New York City. And this kind of language is not new.” So explained U.S. Representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), in a July 23, 2020 speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol Building. She was responding to a series of incidences that occurred with fellow congressperson Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida. Reportedly, the day prior to her speech, as AOC was entering the U.S. Capitol Building, Yoho exclaimed that AOC was “out of [her] freaking mind!” In response, AOC accused Yoho of being “rude.” As Yoho walked away, he muttered that AOC was a “f***ing b****!”2
In her measured response on the floor of the House of Representatives, AOC recounted that after hearing Yoho’s comment,
The events that transpired between Representatives Yoho and Ocasio-Cortez are an example of conflict. Conflict refers to
Democracies rightly assume that conflict is a fact of life. After all, citizens’ diverging and competing preferences are always in conflict. Democratic institutions exist to shape processes for resolving conflicts civilly among competing political preferences.5 Rather than seek to avoid or eradicate conflict, democratic systems focus on how to manage it constructively. Constructive conflict can seem cumbersome, but it is worth the effort. As a process, the arduous conflict management peregrination is not only efficacious for the participants involved, but the democracy as well. For those reasons, this chapter investigates and unpacks conflict management and dialogue.

Cultural Approaches to Conflict Management

As Fred Jantd explains in Communication and Conflict, much of our understanding of conflict is shrouded in myth.6 For example, conflict is often viewed as abnormal when in fact, harmony is unusual and conflict is inescapable. Another myth is that conflicts are generally considered a breakdown in communication, when in fact it is communication that manages conflict. Furthermore, we mistakenly believe that conflict extinguishes relationships and stifles collaboration, but in actuality it is unresolved conflict that often destroys relationships and effective collaboration.
Communication scholars have long argued that human conflict is best addressed when people try to manage rather than resolve it. Herbert C. Kelman defines conflict resolution as the “process of shaping a mutually satisfactory and hence durable agreement between the two societies, reconciliation refers to the process whereby they learn to live together in the post-conflict environment.”7 In essence, conflict resolution, sometimes referred to as dispute resolution, is fixated on putting an end to conflict. Conversely, scholars argue that participants are better served by conflict management, which according to Calvin Morrill, is “any social process by which people or groups handle grievances about each other’s behaviors.”8
Just as there are many myths about conflict, there are also myths about conflict management. There are two myths that Jandt highlights that are particularly instructive for how humans incorrectly perceive conflict management:9
  • The best way to solve conflict is through compromise.
  • Conflict is a global practice with global solutions that span across cultures.
Compromise is a way of managing conflict, but it is not the only way to resolve conflict. In fact, better approaches exist. To understand why this is the case, we must address the second myth. It is true that conflicts due indeed occur across all cultures. However, the ways in which they manifest and are resolved is culture specific. For example, in some cultures conflict is over when there is a final resolution.10 In other cultures, conflict resolution is an ongoing process that continues as long as the relationship exists.11


Culture can be a decisive factor in conflict resolution. Western cultural approaches to conflict are shaped by individualism. Individualism is a dimension of culture that “refers to the rights and interdependence of individuals.”12 This concept helps shape dominant western cultural conflict management strategies, which include:
  • Avoiding – a passive approach to conflict where one tries to ignore rather than confront the conflict. Due to lack of reciprocity, the avoidance of conflict is considered an approach that will likely weaken a relationship because when the conflict remains unresolved it is impossible for either, let alone both parties, to have their concerns satisfied.13
  • Accommodating – a conflict style where one party attends to the needs of others rather than their own. It is considered an approach that will likely weaken a relationship due to its lack of reciprocity. Indeed, the accommodating style only allows one side to have their concerns met.14
  • Competing – a conflict style where one party pursues their own goals and ignores the goals of the other party or parties. A competing approach, which many utilize in their childhood, will more than likely weaken a relationship.15 Where accommodation allows for the satisfaction of one party without considering the other, competition allows for the satisfaction of one party at the expense of the other.
  • Compromising – a conflict style where participants seek to partially satisfy the concerns of both parties.16 This can be a reasonable approach, but not when it comes to principles. Furthermore, since both parties are only partially satisfied in a compromise setting, that means that neither is fully satisfied.
  • Collaborating – an approach to conflict occurs when both parties agree on an outcome that satisfies all party’s concerns.17 Communication scholars contend that a collaborative approach, althoug...

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