Validating your opponent's position

The Art of the Dispute.

I am a commercial litigator. As you would expect, I deal with disputes on a daily basis. However, my profession does not place me in a unique position – far from it. The reality is that each of us has disputes and arguments, of varying degrees of seriousness or triviality, every day.

What my job has given me is an up-close view of the nature of disputes, how and why parties argue and the strategies that they adopt to try and achieve their aims. The purpose of this series of articles is to share with you some observations which are likely to apply as much to your daily interactions outside the workplace as within it.

Enjoy reading the second instalment: Validating your opponent's position.

You have spent some time considering how you have been wronged. You have given careful thought to your objectives. You have rehearsed your speech, refined the content of your letter and are ready to set out, with precision, what has happened, why you are right and what you require to settle the dispute. The only problem is that whilst you have been formulating your thoughts and your strategy, so, too, has your opponent.

We have all witnessed these types of arguments, where a cross word or a misstep leads to a heated exchange. This may arise in a myriad of situations, such as on the road, a tussle over a parking space, or the call centre in which you utilised the long hold whilst waiting to be connected to sharpen your arguments.

The instinct you will often see come to the fore in these types of situations is the belief that if you shout a little louder, get a bit angrier, or hold your ground for longer than your opponent, then your argument will prevail. However, it is commonly the case that they share that same belief and so the argument bounces backwards and forwards between you both, picking up the pace until one of you gives up or hangs up.

The point here is that, no matter how enthused you are with your position or how appalled you are by the ignorance of your opponent, the substance of the argument rarely progresses to a resolution because neither party is really listening to the other and instead are locked in an increasingly frenetic and circular dialogue. There is an erroneous belief that if you can introduce one further line of reasoning, then you will win over your opponent to your way of thinking. But ask yourself how often that strategy works and I expect the answer you will arrive at is not very often at all.

One way in which to break this deadlock and to extract yourself from an increasingly pointless and negative exchange is to validate your opponent's position. What then does this mean?

Daniel Gleek
Move beyond a reactive argument and toward a more constructive discussion as to what happens next.
Daniel Gleek


It means taking both control and the initiative by summarising back to your counterpart what are their arguments and in so doing, you demonstrate that you have listened to and heard what they say e.g. 'Thank you for explaining your position. I get it'. Do not mistake this approach as a concession or defeat. Rather, what follows on the heels of this validation is an explanation as to why you disagree with their position.

If you are able to validate their position in this way, it will help you move beyond a reactive argument and toward a more constructive discussion as to what happens next.

Tips on validating your opponent's position:

If you find the argument has become circular, consider validating you opponent's position in order to change the tempo and content of the dialogue e.g. 'I understand your position, you are saying x, y and z.' If you are able to get your opponent to agree that you have properly understood their argument, you can then try and focus on an appropriate resolution. If a resolution is not possible at this stage, you will nevertheless be a step forward, having stopped the escalating volume of the conversation and clarified the points that remain in dispute. You can strategize your next steps accordingly.

If you have any questions on this article, or you need some legal assistance with a dispute, please contact Daniel Gleek for a conversation on how we can help. 


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