Learning to Disagree Respectfully

To be great citizens of the world, with so many ideas, points of view and perceptions, being able to disagree respectfully is important.

As humans, we have a desire to be ‘right.’ Have you ever been in an argument and half way through you realised you were wrong? What did you do? Most people report they continue to argue their case! We enjoy being right – even when we are wrong!

It is much easier, to agree and many people steer clear of disagreements or people with alternative views, to affirm and cement their own ideas and beliefs. However being willing to broaden your thinking and hear another points of view can lead to disagreements. Learning how to disagree constructively is a skill, and one that requires explicit teaching and practice.

These tips below can help…

  1. Focus on the facts. If you disagree with someone, stick to the facts,  Learn to paraphrase what the other person has said. This shows your attempt at understanding what was said and your willingness to listen to understand.
    “What you are saying is … and I disagree because…””Your point of view is that… and I believe this…”
    “I respect your point of… and from my perspective…”
  2. Use ‘I’ Statements. Rather than attacking the person, using an ‘I’ statement is a subtle way to show you disagree. One writer on this topic says; Effectively disagreeing isn’t about sugarcoating what you are saying – it is about softening your language so your message is received pleasantly. Instead of saying “You must be joking!” or “Are you crazy?” try these phrases:
    “I’m sorry, I have to disagree with you on…”
    “I have a completely different opinion on this.”
    “I feel that…”
  3. Seek to Understand. Being a great listener is about respecting and understanding the other person’s perspective. Ask questions to explore the other persons point of view or request more information by inquiring or asking for clarity on certain points. This shows your willingness to understand the other person, rather than just disagree or be argumentative.
    “When you say… can you elaborate on that?”
    “I’m interested in your thinking when you say…”
    “Can you say more about…”
  4. Stay Calm. The most important thing you can do is keep calm. Avoid sarcasm, yelling or making derogatory comments. Keep the conversation on track. If you are feeling angry or passionate about something, and feel your emotions rising, you may need to postpone or end the conversation. Here useful phrases include:
    “Just give me a moment to think.”
    “I’m feeling my emotions are taking over. Can we come back to this please?”
  5. Offer a Solution. It is useful to come to some form of agreement, even if it is to ‘agree to disagree.’  Offering an alternative or a suggestion might soften the discussion.
    “Instead, maybe we could…”
    “An alternative suggestion might be…”
    “How about we…”

Disagreements are inevitable if you are exploring new ideas or working with people with different ideas and values than your own. It is OK to have different thoughts and ideas and how you respectfully approach this that will make the biggest difference. A great way to teach this is to model it. Use these phrases yourself and others can learn from you.

Be respectful & professional in your disagreements 🙂

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Published on Monday, October 1st, 2018, under Life lessons, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

3 Responses to “Learning to Disagree Respectfully”

  1. JOHN MILNE says:

    Congratulations on a very timely post Karen. Your writing inspires with purpose and power.

  2. Karyn McGree says:

    Sensible and wise suggestions and advice for everyone.

  3. Jeff Whitney says:

    Considering what’s going on today in the US, this is super-timely advice… just delivered almost 27 months too early!

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