Accepting and embracing disagreement is difficult for some people who seek harmony and cooperation all of the time. Yet, without dissent and differing opinions, the world would be a very bland and conformist place. Embracing disagreement is a valuable way of learning new ideas, tempering your own ideas into workable outcomes, and reaching solutions that everyone can benefit from. Learn how to change your perspective about disagreement and your interactions with others will improve greatly.
Part 1 of 3:Expressing and Reacting to Disagreement
1. Express disagreement respectfully
Express disagreement respectfully. Expressing disagreement by yelling out “You’re SO wrong!” isn’t a great way to respectfully disagree. Neither is making it seem that your option is the only one, such as saying “that’s a no-brainer.” Doing this makes it seem like your opinion is the only one and that others’ opinions are irrelevant. Instead, seek to make a “disarming” preliminary statement before you express your own opinion:
“Interesting––it seems we have different points of view. Do you mind if I explain where I’m coming from?”
“Really? I’ve made different observations, probably because I had different experiences…”
“I value your ideas on this matter and I can see why you’re concerned about trying a different way. Perhaps we could look at a new approach?”
“I just wanted to run a different alternative by you. I’d be happy to give more details if you’re interested…”
2. Practice active listening
Practice active listening. Once you have stated your own opinion, be sure to give the other person room to do the same. This means actively and attentively listening to this person’s opinion with respect. The principles of active listening involve:
Turning to face the speaker and demonstrating that they have your undivided attention.
Refraining from butting in until the speaker has completely finished talking.
Encouraging the speaker to continue by nodding or prompting (e.g. “And?”).
Restating what you heard to be sure you understand the message (e.g. “So, if I heard you correctly, you are saying…”
Reflecting the speaker’s message in terms of what they seem to be feeling (e.g. “It sounds like this is a serious belief for you.”).
Sharing feedback in a non-judgmental way about your thoughts on the message.
3. Show empathy towards the other person
Show empathy towards the other person. To prevent any disagreeable discussion from escalating into a heated argument, communicate empathetically by stating observations, feelings, needs, and requests in that order.
To show empathetic solidarity, consider expressing your understanding of the issue by explaining your own past experience. For example, say something like: “I’ve been through something similar in the past and I felt just like you do now.” Of course, this must be a genuine connection; don’t make up anything.
4. Speak to common interests
Speak to common interests. When you’re in disagreement with someone, it’s easy to get caught up in your separate agendas and forget the overall point. In order to reel in a disagreement that is losing its purpose, let the other person know what you both have in common regarding the issue. Doing this brings you back to the discussion table and actually allows you to be on the same side.
You can say something like “Let’s consider our shared goal. We both want ___. What can we do to be sure that our mutual needs are met? What tools can we use to accomplish this goal?”
5. Acknowledge the courage it takes to disagree
Acknowledge the courage it takes to disagree. Be sure to thank the other person for having the courage to express their opinion—and pat yourself on the back if you were prompted to disagree. Disagreement means that the person you are dealing with is bringing a different perspective into the mix and offering you a chance to broaden your horizons.
It also means that the person values you enough and trusts you enough to voice a difference of opinion in your presence (you might also like to congratulate yourself for fostering such openness). Show appreciation for this person’s courage by saying something like:
“You know, while I still think we have different approaches, I understand yours a little better now. Thanks for discussing it with me.”
“I really appreciate that you took the time to clearly explain to me how you see this matter. I hadn’t looked at it from this perspective before and it has given me much food for thought. I’ll definitely take into consideration the points you raised when I review this now.”
6. Find easy ways of resolving disagreements
Find easy ways of resolving disagreements. When you have a quick acronym to call up to your memory, you can jump into effectively resolving disagreements sooner than later. There is a common acronym used in conflict resolution called LEAP. You can use this when you are in the middle of a disagreement and want to resolve it more quickly and effectively. It consists of:
L: Listen to the other person’s message
E: Empathize with the other person’s point-of-view; think about where the message is coming from
A: Agree with some aspect of the person’s message to find common ground
P: Partner with the other person to find a mutually beneficial and workable solution
Part 2 of 3:Thwarting Setbacks to Resolution
1. Avoid telling people that your opinion is “for their own good”
Avoid telling people that your opinion is “for their own good.” This is treating the person you’re disagreeing with as if they are a child. Think about how effective it is when you use it on a child—well, it’s even less effective on an adult! It basically says: “You’re too dumb to know the best solution or way to do things around here. I know better and I’m going to impose my will on you.” This can escalate a disagreement rather than quell it.
Stop yourself from ever using this phrase again. Instead, acknowledge how the other person is thinking, notice what they’re already doing well and replace the desire to impose your will with something like: “I admire what you do and I don’t want to rearrange what works for you. I just wanted to share my experience when I did something similar before, in case you might like to cherry-pick one or two of my ideas that might be useful to you.”
2. Take care not to express your disagreement using an apology
Take care not to express your disagreement using an apology. “I’m sorry” is meant for apologizing for something you’ve done wrong or for hurting a person only—it is not meant for preceding a letdown or excusing yourself from hammering home your preferred point.
For example, saying “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” is fine, while “I’m sorry but you’re wrong” or “I’m sorry for your inconvenience” is not acceptable. In the latter phrases, the speaker is distancing themselves from the listener and is attempting to excuse the action or inaction.
Instead, try the following phrases when expressing your disagreement: “I’m sorry you don’t like what I have to say, but…” becomes “I feel badly that I’ve caused a misunderstanding between us. What can I do to make this situation right?”
3. Know when to agree to disagree
Know when to agree to disagree. If the discussion drags on in a stalemate of sorts, it’s probably better to move on to talking about something that you do agree on. Indeed, the harder you push your agenda, the deeper the person disagreeing with you is likely to dig in their heels. If you push too hard, the other person may end up disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing, just to avoid being “swallowed up” by your will or to defend their own sense of self.
4. Don’t assume the other person needs your guidance
Don’t assume the other person needs your guidance. Remember that the listener is capable of working out things for themselves, provided you step back. Make your preferences known, but leave it open to the other person as to how they wish to reach a constructive outcome.
For example, instead of saying: “You’re too worked up about this idea. Let me show you how it should be done”, say “I can see why this is bothering you. Please let me know if you need help thinking up solutions.
Part 3 of 3:Learning the Benefits of Disagreeing
1. Remember that disagreement does not equal conflict
Remember that disagreement does not equal conflict. Sometimes disagreement can lead to conflict, but it can also lead to discussion and learning. Provided you’re willing to engage in discussion, it is likely that learning about an opinion or perspective different from your own will broaden your understanding of an issue.
2. Exercise an open mind
Exercise an open mind. Being open-minded means allowing yourself to listen to and accept ideas or beliefs that are different from your own. There are many benefits to having an open mind, including having fewer prejudices, being a better problem-solver, and being more interesting. And, since open-minded people are more receptive to change, they also suffer from less stress.
To be open-minded in the face of disagreement, ask a lot of questions. Try to understand why and how the person drew the conclusion that you disagree with. You might find that they’ve experienced things that you did not, and that those experiences can shed light on your own beliefs.
Asking open-ended questions and listening actively are the best possible ways to find out what the other person knows. Plus, these strategies can give both of you a breather from any current disagreement.
3. See disagreement as diversity
See disagreement as diversity. There’s a famous quote by George S. Patton that goes, “If everybody’s thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” Strive to see disagreements as an opening for greater diversity and variable opinions—just like you would see the need to diversify your employment staff, friendships, or your stock portfolio.
Realize that people from different backgrounds and cultures may have very different ideas as a result of their upbringing and experiences. Their experiences are just as valid as yours. Seek to explore the interconnections rather than play up the differences. By combining your different perspectives, it’s possible to find a more universal and sustainable solution than simply imposing an order that feels right only to yourself and your life’s experience.