Mastering the Art of Polite Disagreement: A Guide for Healthy Debates


Do you ever find yourself in heated arguments that leave you feeling frustrated and unheard? Well, you're not alone. In fact, healthy debates are becoming increasingly rare in today's society. But fear not! There is hope for polite disagreement. By understanding the importance of respectful dialogue and mastering effective communication techniques, you can navigate any disagreement with ease. Let's delve into the world of healthy debates and discover how to express your opinions respectfully, keep emotions in check, and handle discord with diplomacy. Get ready to improve your confidence in verbal exchanges and become a master of polite disagreement.

Understanding the Importance of Respectful Dialogue

In our daily lives, we are bound to encounter situations where we find ourselves in a disagreement with someone. Whether it's at work, within our social circles, or even within our families, disagreements are a natural part of human interaction. However, it is how we handle these disagreements that truly defines the quality of our relationships and our ability to communicate effectively.

Respectful dialogue is the key to maintaining healthy debates and resolving conflicts amicably. It involves treating others with dignity, actively listening to their viewpoints, and expressing our own opinions in a polite and constructive manner. Respectful dialogue not only promotes understanding and empathy but also fosters trust and strengthens relationships.

Research has shown that respectful dialogue can lead to better outcomes, increased collaboration, and enhanced problem-solving skills. It allows individuals to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or hostility, creating an environment conducive to open and honest discussions. As the American philosopher Noam Chomsky once said1 , "The way to achieve effective communication is not through intimidation or argumentation, but through respectful dialogue."

When engaging in respectful dialogue, it is important to remember that everyone has their own unique perspectives and lived experiences. By acknowledging and respecting these differences, we open ourselves up to new ideas and insights, enriching our own understanding of the world. As the great poet Maya Angelou once wrote2 , "In diversity, there is beauty, and there is strength."

Respectful dialogue also helps to minimize misunderstandings and miscommunication. When we approach disagreements with an open mind and a willingness to listen, we can bridge the gap between conflicting opinions and find common ground. As the American author Stephen Covey put it3 , "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." By actively listening and seeking to understand others, we foster an environment where mutual respect and understanding can flourish.

In conclusion, respectful dialogue is not only important but essential in today's diverse and interconnected world. It allows us to learn from each other, challenge our own beliefs, and grow as individuals. As the Dalai Lama once said4 , "Open-minded people embrace being wrong, are free to change their mind, and welcome information that contradicts their beliefs." By cultivating the art of respectful dialogue, we can create a society that thrives on collaboration, understanding, and a genuine desire to learn from one another.

Effective Communication Techniques for Dispute

In any disagreement or argument, effective communication is the key to reaching a resolution. When emotions are running high, it can be challenging to keep a calm and respectful demeanor. However, by using the right techniques, you can navigate difficult conversations with grace and assert your opinion without causing further conflict. Here are some communication strategies that can help you handle disputes effectively:

1. Active Listening

One of the most important aspects of effective communication is active listening. This means giving your full attention to the person speaking and making an effort to understand their perspective. As the American author and motivational speaker, Brian Tracy, once said: "The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them". Active listening involves focusing on the speaker, maintaining eye contact, and acknowledging their feelings and emotions. By demonstrating that you are listening, the other person will feel valued and respected, which can help to defuse tension and encourage open dialogue.

2. Use "I" Statements

When expressing your opinion or disagreement, using "I" statements can make a significant difference. For instance, instead of saying, "You always interrupt me," you can say, "I feel frustrated when I am interrupted." By framing your thoughts and feelings in terms of your own experience, you avoid blaming the other person, which can often escalate the conflict. Using "I" statements helps to keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand instead of engaging in personal attacks.

3. Stay Calm and Respectful

It's natural for emotions to run high during a dispute, but it's important to stay calm and respectful throughout the conversation. Remember, the goal is to find a resolution, not to prove that you are right or to win the argument. As the American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, once wisely said: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". By maintaining a respectful attitude, you create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and increase the likelihood of finding common ground.

4. Seek to Understand

Instead of simply focusing on making your point, take the time to understand the other person's perspective. By asking open-ended questions and actively seeking to understand their thoughts and feelings, you demonstrate empathy and create an opportunity for a more meaningful dialogue. As the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once said: "The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution". By gaining a deeper understanding of the issue, you may uncover common ground and potential solutions that were not apparent before.

5. Find Common Ground

Finding common ground is essential in resolving disputes. Look for areas where you and the other person can agree or have overlapping interests. Emphasize these commonalities to build rapport and create a foundation for a productive conversation. By focusing on shared goals or values, you can shift the conversation from a confrontational approach to a collaborative one. As the American entrepreneur, Oprah Winfrey, once said: "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate". By acknowledging common ground, you help foster a positive atmosphere that encourages cooperation and understanding.

In conclusion, communication plays a crucial role in resolving disputes. By practicing active listening, using "I" statements, staying calm and respectful, seeking to understand, and finding common ground, you can effectively communicate your viewpoint and reach a resolution. As the American author and spiritual leader, Deepak Chopra, once said: "Language creates reality. Words have power. Speak always to create joy". With these techniques, you can engage in healthy debates and maintain respectful dialogue, ultimately fostering stronger relationships and creating a more harmonious environment.

Mastering the Art of Attentive Listening

In our everyday conversations, we often overlook the significance of attentive listening. As Stephen R. Covey once said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." However, truly listening to others is crucial for healthy and productive discussions. In this section, we will explore the art of attentive listening and how it can enhance our ability to engage in respectful dialogue.

The Power of Listening

In a world that is filled with noise and distractions, attentive listening is a skill that can help us connect with others on a deeper level. By giving our full attention to the speaker, we show them that their thoughts and opinions are valued. Moreover, active listening allows us to gain a better understanding of their perspective, fostering empathy and building stronger relationships.

The Benefits of Attentive Listening

Attentive listening benefits both the speaker and the listener. For the speaker, it provides a safe space to express their thoughts and be heard. It allows them to feel validated and respected, which in turn encourages open and honest communication. As Maya Angelou wisely said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

As the listener, attending to the speaker's words and non-verbal cues enables us to grasp the nuances of their message. It helps us avoid misunderstandings and allows for more effective problem-solving. By truly listening, we create an environment where diverse opinions can be shared and valued.

Techniques for Attentive Listening

Becoming an attentive listener requires conscious effort and practice. Here are some techniques that can help you improve your listening skills:

  1. Give your undivided attention: Minimize distractions and focus solely on the speaker. Put away your electronic devices and make eye contact to show your engagement.

  2. Be present: Stay in the moment and avoid forming judgments or planning your response while the speaker is talking. Let their words sink in before formulating your thoughts.

  3. Practice active body language: Show interest and engagement through nodding, maintaining an open posture, and using facial expressions that reflect understanding and empathy.

  4. Ask clarifying questions: Seek clarification when the speaker's message is unclear. This not only shows that you are actively listening but also helps ensure that you fully understand their perspective.

  5. Reflect and summarize: Periodically summarize what the speaker has shared to demonstrate that you have been attentive and to ensure accurate understanding.

The Value of Attentive Listening in Disagreements

In the context of disagreements, attentive listening becomes even more significant. When we truly listen to those with whom we disagree, we create an opportunity for mutual understanding and growth. As journalist Bryant H. McGill once stated, "One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."

By actively listening to differing viewpoints, we broaden our perspective and develop a deeper understanding of complex issues. It allows us to challenge our own beliefs and biases, paving the way for constructive and respectful dialogue.

Attentive listening is a vital skill that can transform the way we engage in conversations and handle disagreements. By giving our full attention and genuinely seeking to understand others, we create an environment of respect and empathy. As Carl Rogers once said, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." So, let us embrace the power of attentive listening and foster healthier and more productive conversations.

flatlay photography of wireless headphones
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Strategies for Asserting Your Opinion Respectfully

When engaging in a healthy debate or disagreement, it is important to express your opinion in a way that is respectful and considerate. Here are some strategies to help you assert your opinion while maintaining a respectful and productive conversation:

1. Use "I" Statements

Starting your statements with "I" can help to convey that you are expressing your personal perspective rather than making a general assertion. For example, instead of saying, "You are wrong," you can say, "I see it differently." This approach shows that you value the other person's perspective while still asserting your own.

2. Provide Supporting Evidence

Backing up your opinion with relevant facts or evidence can strengthen your argument and make it more persuasive. When presenting your viewpoint, try to include specific examples or data that support your position. This approach not only adds credibility to your argument but also demonstrates that you have done your research.

3. Use Active Listening Techniques

Active listening is an essential skill in any conversation. By fully listening to the other person's viewpoint, you show respect and create a space for dialogue. Repeat or paraphrase their points to ensure that you understand them correctly. This will help to foster a deeper level of understanding and also show the other person that you are taking their perspective seriously.

4. Avoid Personal Attacks

When asserting your opinion, it is important to focus on the issue at hand rather than attacking the person. Personal attacks can escalate conflicts and hinder effective communication. Stick to the topic and address the ideas or arguments rather than criticizing the individual. Remember, it's possible to disagree without being disrespectful.

5. Practice Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When asserting your opinion, try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Consider their background, experiences, and values. This empathetic approach helps to create a sense of connection and fosters a more constructive dialogue.

6. Use Humility

Humility is an important trait when asserting your opinion respectfully. Understand that you may not have all the answers and that there is value in hearing different perspectives. Acknowledge the possibility that you could be wrong or that there may be aspects you haven't considered. This humility can help to create an environment where both parties can learn and grow from the conversation.

Remember, the goal of asserting your opinion respectfully is not to "win" the argument, but rather to have a productive and meaningful conversation. By following these strategies, you can engage in healthy debates that promote understanding and growth.

"Respect for the truth comes close to being the basis for all morality." - Frank Herbert

Tips to Keep Emotions in Check During Disagreements

Disagreements are an inevitable part of life. Whether it's a debate with a coworker or a heated discussion with a loved one, emotions can easily get the best of us. However, it's essential to keep our emotions in check during these disagreements to ensure a healthy and productive conversation. Here are some tips to help you navigate through disagreements without letting your emotions get the better of you:

1. Take a Deep Breath and Pause

When emotions start to rise during a disagreement, it's crucial to take a step back and gather yourself. Taking a deep breath and pausing for a moment can help you regain focus and prevent emotions from clouding your judgment. As the renowned author, Eckhart Tolle, once said, "Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance."

2. Practice Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When engaged in a disagreement, try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand their perspective. This will not only help you approach the discussion with more compassion but will also prevent you from becoming defensive. As the Dalai Lama wisely stated, "Empathy is the most precious human quality and brings immense joy."

3. Stay Mindful of Your Body Language

Our body language can often reveal our true emotions, even if we try to hide them with our words. Keeping your body language in check during a disagreement can help you communicate your point effectively and maintain a calm demeanor. Remember to maintain eye contact, have an open posture, and avoid crossing your arms or displaying signs of aggression. As the famous psychologist, Albert Mehrabian, stated, "Words may show a small part of one's emotions, but nonverbal cues are the primary indicators of true feelings."

4. Use "I" Statements

When expressing yourself during a disagreement, it's essential to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. By focusing on your own thoughts and feelings, rather than attacking the other person, you can express yourself more assertively and avoid escalating the situation. For example, instead of saying, "You always interrupt me," you could say, "I feel frustrated when I'm interrupted." Remember, it's not about blaming or accusing the other person but about expressing your emotions honestly and constructively.

5. Practice Active Listening

Listening is a skill that is often overlooked during disagreements. It's crucial to actively listen to the other person's viewpoint without interrupting or formulating a rebuttal in your mind. Show genuine interest in what they have to say, ask clarifying questions, and paraphrase their thoughts to ensure you understand their perspective correctly. As American journalist Larry King once said, "I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening."

6. Take Breaks When Needed

Sometimes, discussions can become overwhelming, especially when emotions are running high. If you feel that the conversation is becoming unproductive or too intense, it's perfectly acceptable to take a break. Stepping away from the situation and giving yourself some time to calm down can help you approach the disagreement with a clearer mind and prevent further escalation.

Remember, disagreements are an opportunity for growth and learning. It's natural to have strong emotions during these exchanges, but by keeping them in check, we can maintain respectful and productive dialogues. As philosopher Aristotle once said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." So, embrace disagreements as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and engage in healthy debates.

people walking near fire
Photo by Issy Bailey on Unsplash

Using Diplomacy to Handle Discord

In heated conversations where disagreements arise, it is crucial to maintain a spirit of diplomacy. Diplomacy allows us to express our viewpoints while also respecting the perspectives of others. It aims to foster understanding, find common ground, and build bridges between opposing opinions.

Diplomacy involves using tactful language, adopting a calm and composed demeanor, and employing effective negotiation skills. By doing so, we create an atmosphere conducive to finding mutually acceptable solutions and resolving conflicts amicably.

The Power of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is not a sign of weakness but rather a demonstrates strength of character. As former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "Tact and diplomacy are fine in international relations… in politics, perhaps even in business; in human relations, kindness and a sense of human understanding have far greater strength."

When we approach disagreements with diplomacy, we allow ourselves the opportunity to truly listen to the other person's perspective and engage in constructive dialogue. This helps to prevent misunderstandings, avoid unnecessary conflicts, and promote healthy relationships.

Strategies for Effective Diplomacy

To handle discord with diplomacy, we can employ several strategies that will help keep the conversation respectful and productive:

1. Use Diplomatic Language

Using respectful and tactful language is crucial when engaging in discussions with differing opinions. Avoid derogatory remarks, personal attacks, or offensive language that could escalate tensions. Instead, focus on using words that value the other person's point of view and express your thoughts politely.

2. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is an essential skill in diplomacy. It involves giving your full attention to the other person, understanding their perspective, and responding empathetically. Make sure to maintain eye contact, nod your head to show comprehension, and paraphrase their statements to demonstrate that you genuinely understand their viewpoint.

3. Find Common Ground

Seeking common ground is a key aspect of diplomatic discourse. Look for areas of agreement or shared interests to build upon. By doing so, you can create a foundation of understanding and establish a basis for finding mutually beneficial solutions.

4. Be Open to Compromise

Diplomacy emphasizes the willingness to find compromises that meet the needs of all parties involved. Understand that you may not achieve everything you desire, but through negotiation and flexibility, you can reach a resolution that both sides find satisfactory.

5. Control Your Emotions

Disagreements can easily become emotionally charged, causing a breakdown in communication. It is important to remain calm, composed, and in control of our emotions. Practice deep breathing, take breaks when necessary, and remind yourself of the importance of maintaining a respectful dialogue.

In conclusion, diplomacy presents an effective approach to handle discord during disagreements. By using diplomatic language, actively listening, finding common ground, being open to compromise, and controlling our emotions, we can navigate disagreements with grace and tact. Diplomacy paves the way for meaningful dialogue, understanding, and the potential for positive resolutions even in the face of discord.

Examples of Positive and Negative Disagreements

One of the most crucial aspects of engaging in a disagreement is ensuring that it remains constructive and respectful. In this section, we will explore a few examples of both positive and negative disagreements to highlight the difference between them.

Positive Disagreements

Positive disagreements are those that foster growth, understanding, and open-mindedness. They are characterized by respectful communication, active listening, and a willingness to consider different perspectives. Here are a few examples:

  1. Example 1: Debating a Political Issue

Imagine a conversation between two friends, Maya and Alex, discussing a political issue. Maya supports one political party, while Alex holds a differing viewpoint. Instead of resorting to personal attacks or dismissing each other's opinions, they engage in a healthy debate. They present relevant facts, listen to each other's arguments, and ask clarifying questions. Maya says, "I understand where you're coming from, but have you considered the economic implications?" Alex responds, "That's an interesting point, but what about the social impact?" They both express their opinions while maintaining a respectful tone and actively seeking to understand each other.

  1. Example 2: Disagreeing on a Work Project

At a team meeting, Sarah and Mark find themselves in a disagreement over the best approach to a work project. Instead of becoming defensive or engaging in a heated argument, they approach the situation with open-mindedness. Sarah says, "I think we should focus on the creative aspect of the project," while Mark argues, "I believe we should prioritize efficiency." They both respect each other's opinions and engage in a constructive dialogue, considering the pros and cons of each approach. Eventually, they find a middle ground that incorporates both creativity and efficiency, resulting in a stronger project.

Negative Disagreements

On the other hand, negative disagreements can be toxic, unproductive, and damaging to relationships. They are characterized by hostile communication, personal attacks, and closed-mindedness. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Example 1: Arguing with a Colleague

During a team meeting, Emily disagrees with her colleague, Brian, regarding a project deadline. Instead of calmly expressing their viewpoints, they start arguing, raising their voices and interrupting each other. Emily says sarcastically, "You clearly have no understanding of time management!" Brian responds defensively, "You're just being unreasonable!" The conversation escalates into a heated exchange, with both parties becoming entrenched in their positions, and the issue remains unresolved.

  1. Example 2: Disagreeing within a Family

Linda and David, a married couple, find themselves in a disagreement about finances. Instead of having an open dialogue and listening to each other's perspectives, they resort to blame and criticism. Linda says, "You are terrible at managing money. We would be much better off without your input!" David responds angrily, "You don't appreciate anything I do!" The conversation becomes emotionally charged, with hurtful words being exchanged. As a result, they both feel unheard and resentful, creating a strain on their relationship.

Negative disagreements often lead to a breakdown in communication, strained relationships, and an inability to find a resolution. It is essential to avoid such situations by practicing respectful and constructive dialogue.

As American author Maya Angelou said, "You are not obliged to agree with someone, but you should also not disrespect them for holding a different opinion".

Improving Your Confidence in Verbal Exchanges

Verbal exchanges can be intimidating for many individuals, leaving them feeling unsure and lacking confidence in expressing their thoughts and opinions. However, it is crucial to remember that confident communication is a skill that can be developed over time. By implementing a few strategies and techniques, you can improve your confidence in verbal exchanges and engage in meaningful and productive conversations.

Embrace the Power of Preparation

Preparing yourself before engaging in a verbal exchange can significantly boost your confidence. Take the time to gather information, research your topic, and organize your thoughts. This will enable you to speak with clarity and authority, making you more confident in expressing your ideas. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is an essential skill that not only helps you understand the other person's perspective but also shows them that you value their input. By actively listening, you can respond more effectively and demonstrate your attentiveness. As Maya Angelou once wisely stated, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Cultivate Self-Confidence

Confidence starts from within. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. Understand that your opinions and perspectives are valid and deserving of respect. By cultivating self-confidence, you can approach verbal exchanges with a sense of assurance. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Seek Opportunities for Practice

The more you practice, the more confident you become. Look for opportunities to engage in conversations and debates, whether it be in a professional setting, social gathering, or even online forums. By exposing yourself to various scenarios, you can learn to navigate different types of conversations and gain confidence in expressing your thoughts and opinions.

Learn from Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback can be a valuable tool for personal growth and improving your verbal communication skills. Accept feedback graciously and reflect on it with an open mind. Use the feedback to identify areas of improvement and make necessary adjustments. As Dale Carnegie once wrote in his book, "Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."

Surround Yourself with Supportive Individuals

Having a supportive network can greatly enhance your confidence in verbal exchanges. Seek out individuals who uplift and encourage you to express your thoughts freely. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can create a safe space for healthy debates and discussions. As Jim Rohn once said, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

Improving your confidence in verbal exchanges is a journey that requires practice, self-reflection, and continuous growth. By implementing these strategies and techniques, you can gradually develop the confidence to engage in meaningful and productive conversations. Remember, confidence is not about being right all the time, but rather about expressing yourself with authenticity and respect.


In a world of diverse opinions and perspectives, the ability to engage in polite disagreement is crucial for fostering healthy debates and meaningful discussions. Throughout this guide, we have explored various techniques and strategies that can help individuals navigate disagreements with respect and grace. From understanding the importance of respectful dialogue to mastering the art of attentive listening and using diplomacy to handle discord, these skills are essential for effective communication during disputes.

"In the midst of a disagreement, it is important to remember that the goal is not to prove the other person wrong, but to facilitate understanding and find common ground." - Anonymous

By employing effective communication techniques such as active listening, non-accusatory language, and open-mindedness, individuals can create an environment where productive exchanges can occur. It is essential to assert one's opinion respectfully, using supporting evidence and logical reasoning, while being aware of the language and tone used. Keeping emotions in check during disagreements can be challenging, but by focusing on the issue at hand rather than personal attacks, individuals can keep the discussion constructive.

"It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable." - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Furthermore, by examining both positive and negative examples of disagreements, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of how to improve their confidence in verbal exchanges. Through practice and self-reflection, one can develop the art of polite disagreement, ultimately creating an atmosphere conducive to meaningful conversations and growth. In a society that often focuses on winning arguments rather than finding common ground, mastering the art of polite disagreement is a powerful skill that can bridge divides and lead to greater understanding and unity.

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2Maya Angelou, "Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now" (1993)
3Stephen R. Covey, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (1989)
4Dalai Lama XIV, "The Art of Happiness" (1998)
5Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989)
6Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
7Bryant H. McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life (2019)
8Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy (1961)
9Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write (1938)
10William Ury, Getting to Yes (1981)
11Daniel J. O'Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and Research (2016)
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13Joseph Grenny, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (2011)
14Roman Krznaric, Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It (2015)
15Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy (2016)
16Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
17Eckhart Tolle, "Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations, and Exercises."
18Dalai Lama, "The Art of Happiness."
19Albert Mehrabian, "Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes."
20Larry King, "How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication."
21Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics."
22Daniel L. Shapiro and Roger Fisher, "Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate" (2005)
23Kofi Annan, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace" (2012)
24Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)
25Benjamin Franklin, "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin"
26Maya Angelou, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
27Eleanor Roosevelt, "This is My Story"
28Dale Carnegie, "How to Win Friends and Influence People"
29Jim Rohn, "The Art of Exceptional Living"