by Paul Casey

When You Disagree with Someone, Do This!

Two women sitting at a table talking.

January 30, 2022 | Originally posted on February 2, 2017

When you disagree with someone or when they can only see a problem or situation one way, it can stir up many different responses. You might notice a strong desire to “be right” and your goal might become to prove them wrong. You might notice that you just go along with the other person to avoid an uncomfortable argument.

Saying what you really think or feel when it isn’t the same as another person can feel scary. When you use this strategy, you might avoid the discomfort of a disagreement, but you can also lose yourself in the process.

Disagreements and conflict don’t have to be bad. In fact, they can often be a great way to learn something new about a person or topic, develop understanding, and deepen relationships.

Fight the urge to rush in and blast back at that person that just said something that rubbed you the wrong way. Adding fuel to the fire hurts the relationship and lowers your credibility. Instead, consider these options for staying true to yourself while getting your opinion or feelings onto the table for consideration.

Take into account both of your conflict resolution styles.

If you are aware of your default mechanisms, you can be more intentional in bringing your best to the discussion and not fall into the typical traps of your past. And, if you can perceive the other person’s conflict resolution style, you can meet them where they are and alter your approach so it will be better received.

Be curious about where the other person stands.

Ask questions and use phrases like “Help me understand”, “Please elaborate” and “This is my perspective…What is your perspective?” You might just re-evaluate your position after listening actively.

Even if you disagree, show that you "get" them.

Even if their position isn’t logical to you or seems poorly intended, validate their feelings, and show that you care about them and their concerns. This will help to create safety and demonstrate your appreciation for their efforts to work out the disagreement.

State your case gently...but don't beat around the bush.

Start with an “I feel…” statement, as feelings are always valid. Make sure to say the emotion you feel directly after the words “I feel” and not insert the word “you.” Or, start with “I could be totally wrong, but…” to share how observation has led you to an assumption. Saying “Another way to look at this…” is also a good lead-in to give your perspective.

Push back respectfully, never aggressively.

Never bring out the “hammer” or make escalating, emotionally-charged accusations. This behavior will just stir the pot. Seek to remove the emotion from the discussion. This usually means separating the issue from the person. Be very conscious of your tone of voice.

Take the time necessary to hash it out.

Conflict-resolution and disagreements require patience. Commit to staying together through it, no matter how messy it gets. The goal is to keep the discussion going without anyone bailing on the process. Read their body language and look for signs of disengagement.

Maintain the other person's dignity.

Never confront someone in public; seek to resolve conflict in private. If disagreeing in a meeting, always look to “save face” of the person involved without any intent to embarrass them.

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Seek a win-win solution.

Compromise often means both people lose something (better than staying at odds). However, if you can build from common ground and work toward some type of consensus, a workable solution isn’t far away. Keep re-iterating the goal.

Discuss potential outcomes of both courses of action.

“If we went with your/my option, what is likely to happen (good/bad)?” Even though the devil doesn’t need an advocate, it’s helpful to brainstorm scenarios of where the proposed course would take you.

Know when to fold 'em.

Not every conflict or disagreement is resolvable. There are times when backing off is the right move to continue the relationship or because the stakes are low. Agreeing to disagree, with grace, shows the character of letting things go and not allowing bitterness to creep in.

Conclusion

You can do this! And the more you practice finding your voice AND respecting the other person’s voice when you disagree, the more your emotional intelligence will grow–and your relationships will go a notch deeper.  Please share this with anyone you know who is dealing with a conflict situation this week!

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