Self-Assertion and Respectful Disagreement

Lesson Content

Inquire: Self-Assertion


Inevitably, a group will face conflict. When that happens, it’s important to know the steps to address the problem, how to diffuse interpersonal tension, how to get group consensus, and when to stand their ground if a person knows they are right. This section will provide the skills to allow students to do all of those things.

When someone hears the word “argument,” it usually brings negative images to mind. They might think of screaming, yelling, or angry conversations. This lesson will additionally explain these misconceptions and what an argument actually is.


Big Question

What is the best way to successfully assert an argument in a conversation?

Watch: Standing Up for What You Want

Read: Disagreeing in a Group


This section addresses how to identify problems, how to diffuse interpersonal tension, how to obtain group consensus, and when to stand firm.

The Difficulty With Disagreement

Addressing problems is a delicate process. No one likes to step on another person’s toes or go over their head.

DecorativeWhen a conflict arises, the first step is to identify the chain of command. Knowing the chain of command provides clarity over who to approach with a problem.

The second step is talking to the person on the other side of the conflict. If someone is causing a problem, tell them, and try to resolve the problem one-on-one. Explain the problem and brainstorm with them how it can be addressed. If the problem isn’t with a person, but rather with a system or access to needed material, then skip to the third step.

The third step is to take the problem to the first person in the chain of command. One’s boss, manager, or professor will be able to handle problems that someone further down the chain of command cannot. If they are unable or unwilling to help, it may be necessary to consult with someone in the chain of command above the boss or professor. This option should never be the first choice. It is better to start by going to the boss or professor when a problem needs to be addressed.

Identify the Issue(s)

Some problems in a group are issues with technology or processes. It’s much easier to identify a solution for these problems than it is to solve problems arising from interpersonal tension.

Interpersonal tension is conflict between two or more people in a group. This tension can arise for many reasons. Maybe there is a difference of opinion with someone about how a task should be handled, or maybe someone tells a bad joke. Interpersonal tension can arise from just about anything. The first thing to do to diffuse this is to identify the core cause of the tension. Until the cause of the problem is known, it cannot be fixed.

Second, talk with everyone involved to address the issue. This requires a great deal of patience as all sides explain their feelings on the issue. The only way this process will yield any results is if all parties communicate openly. Be honest about thoughts and feelings, but listen to what the other person has to say and what they are feeling as well. There is no one way to address tension in a group. Every problem needs a solution created specifically for that problem. Accept that, and it becomes much easier to actually address the issue and get back on track.

Anticipate Acceptable Solutions

DecorativeWhen dealing with conflict of any sort, or just generally trying to work through a disagreement, it is important to develop acceptable solutions to the situation. For instance, maybe a student feels they did too much work in a group assignment, and that student wants other group members to take a larger role. In this example, the upset student would begin a discussion with the group. The student in question should know what tasks others should volunteer for before the conversation starts. In this way, the student is able to figure out what goals are that they hope to accomplish and they can then work toward achieving them.

Make a Case to the Appropriate Party

Groups depend on getting people to agree on what needs to be done. Not all leaders tell people what’s going to happen; more often than not, the team will have some say in the process. When that happens, the group needs to come to a consensus. A consensus is a general agreement by most of the people in a group. Reaching a consensus involves several steps. First, the leader needs to explain all of the options. A group can’t make a decision if they don’t know what the choices are.

Second, the group needs to take a vote. This happens early in the process so everyone can see where everyone else stands. If everyone agrees from the start, there’s no need to do more.

Third, ask everyone their reasons for their vote.

In the fourth step, group members attempt to bring others to their side, allowing discussion of the options. Everyone has opinions on the subject and hearing those helps all involved to make the best possible decision.

Finally, it’s time to vote again. If everyone agrees, the group is golden. If no consensus can be reached, then repeat the process until enough people agree to a specific course of action.

Set a Schedule and Follow Up as Needed

After the disagreement has been resolved, the situation is not over. The solutions need to be put into play. To do this, those involved in the disagreement need to decide on an appropriate timeline for the solution to be put in place and phases for working toward the solution. Once these are in place, the parties involved need to be sure to stay in touch so that concerns about the rollout of the solution can be addressed if they arise.

Reflect: Holding Your Own in a Group Discussion


Are you comfortable standing your ground in a group discussion?

Expand: Argument 101


When someone hears the word “argument,” it usually brings negative images to mind. They might think of screaming, yelling, or angry conversations. This section will explain those misconceptions and what an argument actually is.

What Is an Argument?

DecorativeAn argument is an exchange of ideas with the intent of persuading someone to change their attitudes or behavior. Popular media has, to some extent, distorted the meaning of this word to connote screaming matches, but that’s not actually an argument. Arguments involve the presentation of an idea and a response. At the end, someone comes out as the “winner.”

Because an argument is meant to be persuasive, the “winner” is the person whose argument is successful. If Sally argues with a friend about where to have lunch, and they ultimately agree to go to the restaurant Sally wants, Sally “won” that argument. But, how does Sally get there? What does Sally need to do to “win?”

Every argument has fundamental elements that can be used to convince an audience. Every argument has a claim: a summary of the argument one is making. This is similar to a thesis in a research paper. It is one or two sentences that summarize the main point one is making. Then, an argument has a warrant.

A warrant is supporting material that proves the point. Supporting material may be data, a personal example, or an expert opinion. Each of these warrants persuades different kinds of audiences. Knowing the person or audience one is trying to persuade helps to craft the best argument. The warrant is the most important part of the argument; it provides the reason why a person is either right or why they should change their mind.

By keeping these fundamentals in mind, the next time an argument happens, it can be a conversation rather than a screaming match. Interested parties can have a conversation and, at the end, someone agrees with the other person. This kind of conversation is preferable to the screaming match, as it leaves both sides satisfied that they have made the right choice. It avoids leaving people angry about the situation.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

Lesson Resources

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Additional Resources and Readings

Resolving Team Conflict

An article that provides several strategies to handle group conflict

The Art of Getting to Yes: 5 Techniques for Building Consensus

An article that provides strategies for building consensus in a group

How to Be a Lion: 7 Steps for Asserting Yourself Positively

An article that provides seven tips on how to positively assert oneself

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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Alexander Amos for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Media Sources

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