The best books to avoid an argument with someone close

Why am I passionate about this?

For the past 30 years I’ve focused on one question: Can individuals who have deep differences come together to cultivate common ground, compassion, and civility? Even with deep differences can we still engage in productive conversations? As an author, professor, and co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project my attempt to answer this question continues. The books I’ve listed have given guidance to not only come up with an answer but more importantly, live it out with those close to me. To hear me put theory into practice, listen to my Winsome Conviction podcast (with co-host Rick Langer) which tackles divisive issues with the hope of bringing diverse people together to talk.  


I wrote...

Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing Without Dividing the Church

By Tim Muehlhoff, Richard Langer,

Book cover of Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing Without Dividing the Church

What is my book about?

We generally assume that those sitting around us in church share our beliefs. But when our personal convictions are contested by fellow Christians, everything changes. We feel attacked from behind. When other Christians doubt or deny our convictions, we don't experience it as a mere difference of opinion, but as a violation of an unspoken agreement. In today's polarized context, Christians often have committed, biblical rationales for very different positions. How do we discern between core biblical convictions and secondary issues? How do we cultivate better understanding and compassion for those we disagree with? Lessons from conflict theory and church history show how to avoid the dangers of groupthink and how to negotiate differing biblical convictions to avoid church splits and repair interpersonal ruptures.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue

Tim Muehlhoff Why did I love this book?

If we want to avoid unproductive arguments with people we care about, then we need to know why arguing has replaced dialogue. Today, many experts describe our current communication climate as the argument culture where we respond to differences of opinion as if we were in a verbal fight. How did this toxic climate come to be? Though written by a linguist, this accessible book allows us to see how argument replaced healthy communication in the realm of education, politics, and religion. What I find most helpful is how the author helps us diagnose if we enter conversations as a debater—only interested in winning—or as a learner who exhibits both convictions and humility. And, if we are only interested in debate/winning how can we change our disposition toward people who matter to us that includes empathy and compassion?

By Deborah Tannen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her number one bestseller, You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen showed why talking to someone of the other sex can be like talking to someone from another world. Her bestseller Talking from 9 to 5 did for workplace communication what You Just Don't Understand did for personal relationships. Now Tannen is back with another groundbreaking book, this time widening her lens to examine the way we communicate in public--in the media, in politics, in our courtrooms and classrooms--once again letting us see in a new way forces that have been powerfully shaping our lives.
        The Argument Culture is about…


Book cover of Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate

Tim Muehlhoff Why did I love this book?

Even if you have the best intentions heading into a conversation, powerful emotions can easily derail the entire interaction. You headed in wanting to stay calm, but something your spouse, co-worker, or fellow church member said triggered your hot button surfacing powerful emotions. Soon, voices are raised and feelings are hurt. How do you manage powerful emotions when they surface? If you’ve never read a book by the creators of the Harvard Negotiation Project—the leading experts in mediation—this is a must-read by experts who have had to manage the most difficult and potentially explosive conversations imaginable. They remind us that emotions are “powerful, always present, and hard to handle.” Yet, the authors offer practical ways to recognize the emotions you have heading into a conversation with someone you care about and how to deal with them once they surface. 

By Roger Fisher, Daniel Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beyond Reason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether you are negotiating a business contract or curfew with your teenager, emotions can get you in trouble. They also can help you get what you want. This book shows you how. Telling a negotiator 'Don't get emotional' is nonsense. We all have emotions of some kind - all the time - and these emotions deeply inform both what we want and how we go about getting it. In "Getting to Yes", master negotiator Roger Fisher helped readers understand the mechanics of everyday agreements and how to reach them while preserving respect and self-worth. Now, in "Beyond Reason", he and…


Book cover of Communicating with Grace and Virtue: Learning to Listen, Speak, Text, and Interact as a Christian

Tim Muehlhoff Why did I love this book?

In discussing difficult issues with those close to us we all know the importance of listening, empathy, and the power of stories. However, is it possible to do this when communicating via text, email, or Facebook?  What Schultze has taught me is how to utilize these communication skills not only in face-to-face encounters but also when discussing issues via social media. How can I discern which media platform is best suited for sharing my opinions or perspective on potentially divisive issues? While social media is often cast as a source of our collective incivility, this book gives hope that it can also be part of the solution. While written for Christian communicators, the principles he shares are applicable to anyone interested in fostering productive conversations either in person or via social media.  

By Quentin J. Schultze,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Communicating with Grace and Virtue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Communications expert Quentin Schultze offers an engaging and practical guide to help Christians interact effectively at home, work, church, school, and beyond. Based on solid biblical principles and drawn from Schultze's own remarkable experiences, this book shows how to practice "servant communication" for a rich and rewarding life. Topics include how to overcome common mistakes, be a more grateful and virtuous communicator, tell stories effectively, reduce conflicts, overcome fears, and communicate well in a high-tech world. Helpful sidebars and text boxes are included.


Book cover of An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half

Tim Muehlhoff Why did I love this book?

As the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project, I am committed to re-introducing civility back into our public disagreements. However, civility is often a misunderstood concept. Murray does a wonderful job pointing out what civility is not—mere niceness without purpose. He reminds us that civility is not the ultimate goal in our disagreements. Rather, it is a means of communication—rules we can agree on—that allows us to dig deep into the issues which easily separate us. If you find that politics are putting emotional distance between you and those close to you, then this is the book for you.  

By David Murray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Effort to Understand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An insightful book packed with wonderful writing, practical advice, and hope for a better, kinder future." —Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

You're ready to give up. Throw up your hands and walk out the door. You don't know what else to say—to some dear family and close friends, let alone the crazy strangers that seem to populate half the country.

Congratulations: You're ready to read An Effort to Understand.

But don't worry. This is not a book about civility.

Instead, David Murray (blogger, speechwriter, rhetoric authority, and professional curmudgeon) is urging readers to join him in a near-spiritual…


Book cover of Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World

Tim Muehlhoff Why did I love this book?

In today’s often argumentative world, we need someone who not only understands what true empathy and civility are, but also practices it. I can think of no greater ambassador of compassion and civility than this author. Not only does this book give a wonderful vision of empathy, perspective-taking, and caring for the stories of others, but it is filled with Mouw’s attempt to put those virtues into practice. He seeks out those that disagree with him and models what humility and love look like to be embodied.  

By Richard J. Mouw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Uncommon Decency as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can Christians act like Christians even when they disagree? In these wild and diverse times, right and left battle over the airwaves, prolifers square off against prochoicers, gay liberationists confront champions of the traditional family, artists and legislators tangle, even Christians fight other Christians whose doctrines aren't "just so."
Richard Mouw has been actively forging a model of Christian civil conversation with those we might disagree with-atheists, Muslims, gay activists and more. He is concerned that, too often, Christians have contributed more to the problem than to the solution. But he recognizes-from his dialogues with those from many perspectives-that it's…


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Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age

By Joy Loverde,

Book cover of Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age

Joy Loverde

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Everything you need to know to plan for your own safe, financially secure, healthy, and happy old age.

For those who have no support system in place, the thought of aging without help can be a frightening, isolating prospect. Whether you have friends and family ready and able to help you or not, growing old does not have to be an inevitable decline into helplessness. It is possible to maintain a good quality of life in your later years, but having a plan is essential. Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old? Equips readers with everything they need to prepare on their own:

Advice on the tough medical, financial, and housing decisions to come Real solutions to create a support network Questions about aging solo readers don't know to ask Customizable worksheets and checklists that help keep plans on course Guidance on new products, services, technology, and resources

Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old?: Plan Now to Safeguard Your Health and Happiness in Old Age

By Joy Loverde,

What is this book about?

For those who have no support system in place, the thought of aging without help can be a frightening, isolating prospect. Whether you have friends and family ready and able to help you or not, growing old does not have to be an inevitable decline into helplessness. It is possible to maintain a good quality of life in your later years, but having a plan is essential. WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF ME WHEN I'M OLD? equips readers with everything they need to prepare on their own:

* Advice on the tough medical, financial, and housing decisions to come
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