Power 4 min read

How To Disagree, Agreeably

Start with r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

(Photo: WOCinTech, Flickr)

Disagreements are normal, healthy parts of life. We experience disagreements when our thoughts and feelings don’t align with the other person’s point of view. But disagreeing with our friends, coworkers and family members can actually be good for us!  

Clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D. talked about what he calls the eighty-five percent rule.  He suggests that in life, roughly eighty-five percent of the people we meet will like us.  This means that not everyone we interact with is going to agree with us, and that is more than alright.

When disagreements do come up, we can use these four guidelines to help us make our case:

1. Never speak from anger.

If an argument gets us hot under the collar it is imperative that we stop right there and take a step back.  Anger might be justified but it’s counterproductive. Research has found that when we speak from anger we aren’t able to see the scope of the situation, or express our needs clearly, so let’s pace ourselves and take a few moments to regroup.

How many of us have blurted out harsh words in the heat of the moment only to wish we could take them back?  

2. Stick to the matter at hand.

Do not dwell on the past. Stick to the matter at hand and keep the disagreement about the facts. A recent study examined the successful marriages of seventy-one African American couples who had been married an average of thirty-two years.  A trait their relationships had in common was an ability to disagree respectfully.  The couples kept their arguments to the matter at hand and did not continually bring up past grievances.

3. Use “I” statements.

Our concerns and points are valid but often can’t be received because the other person puts up their defenses.  Using phrases like, “You did this to me” or “You made me do this” invites defensiveness.  Change the tone of the disagreement by saying, “I felt hurt and this is why” instead.  Therapists have found that using “I” statements, finding common ground and keeping a respectful tone during arguments allows both parties to better understand each other.

4.  Put compromise first.

Some people get caught up in the illusion of winning and losing.  Disagreements should not be focused on who’s right or wrong but rather how we can come to consensus.  When we work to find compromise everyone benefits.  This “win-win” approach sees conflict resolution as an opportunity to come to a mutually beneficial result. You can use any of these seven statements to help you put your compromising skills into action.  One that we could use right away is, “Could you try it my way for a week and see how it works? And if it doesn’t work, we can go back to the other method.”  

The next time you are going through some conflict or disagreement remember that this can be healthy!  Whenever you can, state your case with logic, calm and grace and practice the art of respectful disagreement.

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