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Effective Disagreement

Mediation and Business Consulting by Kathleen Kauth.

If we listen to the main stream media, it can often seem as if there is no hope for people of different beliefs, races, religions, politics, gender etc. to be in the same room together much less get along.  This is a mistaken belief.  It is entirely possible for people who have completely different takes on any number of subjects to not only get along, but consider each other friends. 

At the very least, practicing effective disagreement techniques will build the structure of a relationship that will support a positive environment whether at work, in the neighborhood or with family.

All or nothing is a trap

The first thing to remember about effective disagreement is that it is perfectly okay and very normal to disagree with people on issues.  

Remember — we are not widgets.  We can not be mass produced or mass managed.  Each individual is made up of millions of unique experiences that have shaped their views.  It would be mathematically impossible to have the exact same viewpoint as another person.  You might have similarities in viewpoints, but you aren’t exactly the same. 

Understanding that everyone is starting from a different perspective makes it easier to understand that differences are okay.  It also helps remove the “all or nothing” trap.  This is when an individual dismisses a relationship based on the fact that they don’t agree with them on every issue.  

Quite frankly, can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone thought, felt and acted the same?  

So where do you draw the line?

Where you draw the line depends on a myriad of factors:

  • Do you like the person?  If you don’t actually want to be around the person, is it really necessary to build the relationship?  It might be, or you might be able to let it lapse. 
  • Do you need to work with or communicate with the person?  If you are required to interact with the person, are the issues you disagree with part of that relationship or are they outside of it?  If they are part of it you will need to implement strategies to handle the disagreement (see below).
  • Do their views on some subjects fit yours?  Everyone needs to come up with their “acceptable percentage”.  Knowing you won’t agree on all things, do you need to be compatible on 80%? 60% more? less?  This can actually be different for different relationships based on how you feel about the person or the structure of the relationship.
  • Are the things you disagree on pertinent to your relationship?  Some things just might not come up.  If you enjoy much about being around them the issues you disagree on may not be important.

(Serial killer exclusion — there are some issues that are deal breakers no matter what.  Each person has to define those for themselves.  Mine is serial killers!)

How to effectively disagree

  1. Stay calm.  Even if the subject upsets you, or you are shocked that someone doesn’t hold the same opinion as you, getting upset or irritated charges the emotions of both parties making discussion much more difficult.
  2. Take a beat. Pause to think through what the person is saying.  Quick reactions are often not the best ones.  This does not mean that you aren’t going to disagree, it just means you need to understand more about their stance.
  3. Consider how you would feel if your beliefs were being challenged.  Just as you may hold strong feelings about an issue — understand that other people do too.  They have as much right to their beliefs as you do.
  4. Tell them that you disagree.  In those words, but in a calm, quiet and confident manner.  
  5. Ask them if they would like to discuss the differences of opinion or would they prefer to acknowledge the disagreement and move on.   
  6. If you discuss — be willing to talk AND listen.  Understanding more about where someone is coming from can make a big difference.

Rational people can agree to disagree and continue to have a relationship.  You do not have to agree with everyone about everything.  You can choose to value relationships even when they are not in perfect alignment with you.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the value these relationships bring to your life!


Kathleen Kauth

Kathleen Kauth is President/Owner of K.T. Beck Enterprises, LLC a Mediation and Business Consulting firm which focuses on using Mediation techniques to help individuals, families and businesses resolve conflicts. With areas of interest in Eldercare and Business Mediation, we are able to provide a wide variety of personalized services.   MORE >

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