What We've Learned

Respectful disagreement closes the gap between points of view

By Robert J. Garmston and Kendall Zoller
February 2018
Vol. 39 No. 1
Educators, more than in most professions, have an opportunity – actually, a responsibility – to practice and model constructive ways of disagreeing. We wish to frame the context for this obligation and suggest ways we can all get better at respectful disagreement. To disagree well, one first must listen. Listening conveys respect of the person speaking, especially when your listening includes restating ideas to confirm understanding and let the speaker know you are making this effort. Most of us know this, but still can get caught in angry, argumentative, or defensive engagements. You may know someone who unfriended a person on Facebook because of comments about politics, religion, or even food or child care. This is indicative of a new norm emerging in much political

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Robert Garmston and Kendall Zoller

Robert Garmston ( is professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, and an educational consultant. Kendall Zoller ( is president of Sierra Training Associates and an associate professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills.


Brooks, D. (2017, October 23). How to engage a fanatic. The New York Times. Available at

Carter, S. (1998). Civility: Manners, morals, and the etiquette of democracy. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Maeli, J. (2016, March 28). The backfire effect: The more your beliefs are challenged the stronger they become [Web log post]. Available at

Sharot, T. (2017). The influential mind: What the brain reveals about our power to change others. New York, NY: McMillan.

Image for aesthetic effect only - Robert-garmston

Robert J. Garmston ( is an emeritus professor of education administration at California State University, Sacramento, and co-developer of Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools.

Image for aesthetic effect only - Kendall-zoller-150x187-1

Kendall Zoller ( provides professional development in presentation and facilitation skills, leadership, and communicative intelligence.

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