It’s insanity to even begin to think we could be in agreement with others all the time. With so many different cultures and religions, a multitude of life experiences to draw from, so many diverse areas of expertise and education, and even just different family values, it’s a wonder we ever agree!
Even so, for some of us, the idea of disagreeing out loud is scary and something to be avoided at all costs. As children lots of us were taught not to disagree, not to express ourselves openly, and not to share differing points of view. We learned to keep our mouths shut. We learned to avoid conflict, friction, and above all confrontation.
But over time, that just doesn’t fly. At work, we must make difficult decisions. We must face opposition to our views. We must stand up for employees and defend funding for projects. At home, we must set boundaries on our time. We have to decide how to spend joint monies, how to raise children. In every area of life whether that means at work, at home, with friends, with family or with strangers, we are faced with differing opinions and ideas and contradictory points of view.
Rather than continue to avoid or be in fear of these other beliefs and opinions, how about learning to step into them? How about learning the art of difficult conversation and even some phrases for the way to say it when one disagrees?
Here are some simple, but not necessarily easy, steps to take to work through disagreement with grace and an open mind.
Step One: Offer Mutual Respect
Recognize the other has as much right to their point of view as you do. And believe it; don’t just give it lip service. Come from that mindset right out of the gate. Before you even open your mouth, tell yourself multiple times “They have the same right to their opinion and beliefs that I have to mine.”
Step Two: Establish Understanding
Now that you recognize you both have the same right to your point of view, take the time to hear out the other person’s perspective. Really listen and try to put yourself in their shoes. Can you see how they drew these conclusions? Why they feel the way they do? Allow their perceptions while still having yours.
Step Three: Seek Agreement
Once you have heard each other’s story, work together to determine where there is agreement. Don’t expect total agreement. Simply find where you share the same point of view. Where is there overlap in your perceptions? What perspectives and beliefs do you share? Where do you agree? Where do you see things the same or similarly? Finding that common ground creates a great foundation to build on.
Step Four: Clarify Points of Difference
While maintaining that there is some agreement, get clear on exactly where the point or points of difference lie. After listening to each other’s positions (Step 3), most likely you have discovered there is more agreement than originally thought. With that in mind, take a fresh look at where the gap is, where you each see things differently. Is there room for compromise? Cooperation? Has anyone’s perspective changed?
If so, wrap up by talking about the common ground and the understanding gained.
It’s perfectly ok to disagree. The object is not to convince each other of your own point of view, but to educate each other on new viewpoints and to create understanding. If you can accomplish that, you have succeeded! You can each go on your way seeing things differently. But now you have an expanded view of the issue having shared your perspectives.
Here are some phrases that will prove helpful in the art of disagreement without conflict:
“I appreciate your point of view and I think I understand your feelings. Here’s how I see it. “
” I wish I could agree with you. Unfortunately, I see it differently.”
“I respect your opinion and hope you can respect that my viewpoint is different from yours.”
“I understand your position and I agree on xxxx points. Here is where I think we see things differently.”
“We have some common ground and some points where we disagree.”
“Wow, I had never thought of things from that perspective. Thanks for sharing that point of view. It opens things up for me. “
“Thanks to your insights, I have some thinking to do on this topic. Thank you.”
“Now that we have talked it through, I see your point of view more clearly and I respect your opinion. We do agree in some areas and we do not in others, and that’s just fine.”
“I so enjoy that we can hold different points of view and respect those differences. Thanks for sharing your perspective.”
Having a different opinion than your spouse or co-worker or even your boss is not the end of world. Considering the wide range of factors that lead us to our conclusions, disagreement is to be expected and accepted. The key is doing so without judgment and criticism. If we give the level of respect we want, everyone wins.
Respectful disagreement is healthy.