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Disagree Like a Pro

Do you agree that disagreement is a healthy part of any business environment?


Like a well-functioning society, a well-functioning organization requires employees and leaders alike to have productive conversations, even in the face of different views and opinions — in fact, especially in the face of such differences.

Today, this is easier said than done.

On social media and in real life, we regularly find ourselves engaging with people whose core beliefs and values seem to clash with our own.  With the advent of the cancel culture, being able to disagree effectively is more critical than ever.

Rather than engaging in potentially difficult or uncomfortable conversations, many of us try to avoid them altogether. We intuitively try to dodge potentially contentious discussions because most people prefer to engage with those who confirm their beliefs rather than disagree.

Most of the time, this happens because we inaccurately predict how we’ll feel in such conversations. For instance, political partisans frequently overestimate how unpleasant it will be to engage with people who have opposing views.

Why Disagree Better

We need to learn a better approach to disagree.

Using conversational receptiveness in our language, parties who disagree can more effectively communicate their willingness to engage with each other’s views. This method involves using language that signals a person is genuinely interested in another’s perspective.

Research shows that when we appear receptive to listening to and respecting others’ opposing positions, they find our own arguments more persuasive. In addition, receptive language is contagious: It makes those with whom we disagree more receptive in return.

People also like others more and are more interested in partnering with them when they seem receptive.

How to Disagree Better

  1. Be OK with disagreement – Know that when the debate is done the right way, it will help you sharpen your ideas and lead to better outcomes.

Business leaders need to be a champion of respectful disagreement.

  1. Disagree in the proper context – There is a time and a place for agreement and disagreement. When preparing for meetings, your colleagues will appreciate well-prepared arguments because it makes the ensuing discussions more productive.
  2. Listen – Before you disagree, make sure you listen and ask clarifying questions. Sometimes the idea is good, but the articulation of the concept is inadequate. Asking questions will help you understand more and help the other person clarify their thoughts better.
  3. Acknowledge the other person’s perspective – Acknowledging the views of someone you disagree with by saying “I understand that …” or “I believe what you’re saying is…” shows that you are engaged in the conversation.
  4. Phrase your arguments in positive terms – It is easy, during conflicts, to use negative words. Instead, use positive language. For instance, you might say, “Let’s consider the possible benefits. . .”
  5. Point to areas of agreement, even if small or obvious – Even when people passionately disagree, they usually have some shared values or common beliefs that can bring them together. Those are the values and beliefs to highlight; doing so makes everyone work harder toward a resolution.

The Bible

The Bible offers advice on how to disagree without being disagreeable.

Throughout the Bible, we’re told not to engage in disagreements that generate strife. So Paul admonishes us in 2 Timothy 2:23-24.

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

That being said, there are many discussions where there is room for healthy disagreement. In these situations, there needs to be a respectful exchange of opposing ideas. As a result, both sides of an issue feel heard and valued. Each party will gain a better understanding of the issue at hand and the personal relationship preserved.

Proverbs 26:4-5 says.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

            Learn to disagree like a pro and practice conversational receptiveness.  Avoid strife and, above all, respect those you disagree with.