Do You Have An Agenda?

When you enter a conversation, do you have an agenda? Is the point you’re trying to make one that you feel must be embraced by listeners?


I’ve been listening to a number of interviews of Jordan Peterson (opens in a new link), world-renown psychologist, on YouTube. I’ve been astounded by how often the interviewers seem to have an agenda so intense that they aren’t listening to what Dr. Peterson is saying.

Indeed, they often misquote him, ascribe meanings other than those he explicitly stated. In doing so, it seems obvious that they had a point they wanted to make and they didn’t want to hear his point of view; often because it was contrary to what they hoped to elicit from him.

My question for you is “How often do you enter a conversation with the intention of making a point instead of listening with the intent to learn?” We all do it to some degree. I’d love to say I’m exempt, but it’s as easy for me to fall into this trap as it is for any of you.


The consequences of having an agenda like those I just described are not pretty. Here are just  a few of the consequences we might experience when we have an agenda:

  • Lost learning opportunities
  • Divisiveness/Damaged relationships
  • Habitual arrogance
  • Frustration/Anger/Violence

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.

Lost learning opportunities

When we’re not listening, we lose the opportunity to learn something that will be beneficial to us now…and in the future. In other words, we stop growing personally and professionally. The  cessation of learning is the earliest stage of decline.

Divisiveness/Damaged relationships

Pushing your agenda is one of the quickest ways to build a wall between you and the other parties involved. Walls divide. The harder you push an agenda, the taller and more fortified the wall becomes…in part because the other party has joined the effort by defending their position as vehemently as you are yours. This unrelenting desire to be right is one of the reasons we are experiencing so much divisiveness today.

Divisiveness often leads to damaged relationships. During the pandemic, we saw families torn apart over the vaccination question. Divisiveness over the vaccination question often migrated to other areas of disagreement. With each new agenda, the likelihood of reconciling differences became virtually impossible…a devastating effect on families whose members had an agenda.

Habitual arrogance

Once we adopt an agenda, one that we’re unwilling to move from, or consider alternatives to, we can quickly become habitually arrogant. This is especially true when others’ unwillingness to see what is so obvious to us becomes increasingly frustrating for us. In order to regain the credibility we feel we’ve lost because others refuse to see our point of view, the greater the likelihood that we’ll approach future discussions with an agenda regardless of the topic.


I can’t recall a time when frustration has accelerated to anger, then violence as quickly as it does today. The potential for escalation has always existed, but it’s occurring much more frequently and quickly than at any time I can recall…and it stems from pushing an agenda instead of seeking understanding.

The consequences outlined above are devastating; they are not to be taken lightly. The obvious question is “How do I avoid these consequences while expressing my beliefs?”

For you

When you feel compelled to push your point of view, it’s usually because others are resisting. In moments like these, pause. Allow your emotions to wane, then ask the other parties what their thoughts are, then listen; not with the intent to refute, but with the intent to learn. You want to learn:

  • What’s important to them.
  • What common ground exists between your beliefs and opposing viewpoints.
  • How you can use that common ground to tear down the wall of defensiveness that exists.
  • How you can create a mutually-beneficial result.
  • How you can regain a previously-damaged relationship.

You can increase the likelihood of doing these things consistently by reminding yourself at the start of each day that you are going to enter into each discussion with an open mind and a desire to learn.

You can enhance this commitment by reviewing your successes during the day, preferably just prior to retiring. If, during your review, you find that you weren’t as successful as you’d hoped, ask yourself “What did I learn that will help me avoid making the same mistake in the future.“

For our kids

When you see kids pushing an agenda, ask them “Are you trying to make a point? Or are you trying to find a solution?” These questions will give them pause. They’ll likely respond with some questions of their own which will open the door to a more thorough conversation about the approach they’re using in their interactions with others. The earlier that they learn to enter a dialogue without an agenda, the easier and more enjoyable their lives will be.

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