How to Disagree

5.21.15 disagreeI disagree” – when you hear those words, your short hairs stand on end; you can’t help but start to feel defensive.  Brace yourself, here comes the discomfort of being challenged.

           I just disagree with you on this one.

          I happen to disagree with your assessment.

          I can’t agree with your version of events.

Translation: No…you’re wrong…you’re mistaken… you’re fooling yourself… no….no…no

We all love our own opinion and want it taken seriously, respected, and to be right.  The words “I disagree” indicate a serious blow is coming to your (fragile?) ego.

Our knee jerk response to disagreement is a riled response like:

           What do you mean, I’M wrong?

          How DARE you disagree with me on this!

          Who are you to disagree with my assessment?

          What do you know about it to disagree with ME; I was there, not you!

Stand down, keep an open mind, and don’t assume the worse until you hear the other person out.  Easier said than done.  It’s not easy to keep an open mind; it’s actually quite hard.  That’s because disagreement can feel like a betrayal.  You thought this person or this group you are speaking to was an emotionally safe harbor to state your ideas.  Instead the amygdala signals Danger! Danger! Not safe! Get the defenses ready! – a perceived threat triggered by the betrayal inferred by disagreement.

Part of being human is to be judgmental, much as we say that we aren’t, we can’t help it.  It’s how we’re wired.  No matter what happens, we snap to judgment.  Enjoy the book? – eh, it was just OK (judgmental).  Nice haircut! (positive judgment, but still passing judgment) I think you ought to… (there you go again passing judgment, unsolicited.)  Being judgmental and quick to judge is part of the brain’s pattern completion operational style.

The brain makes patterns to conserve energy.  It takes a lot of energy to be the brain – so much going on to keep track of to run the body perfectly – so of course shortcuts are sought out and taken (being judgmental), sometimes with very short supporting material (snap judgment).

The best response to “I disagree” is “please clarify – help me to understand where our opinions differ”.  OK, maybe that’s a little stilted and no one actually talks that way, but you get what I’m saying, right?  So instead say something light like, “yup, you disagree – tell me more” with the point of not getting defensive; hear it out.

And when you’re the one expressing disagreement, watch your tone as the most important factor.  So if you’re disagreeing in writing, remember that the tone of words is inferred by the reader, not by the sender’s intentions.  You may think your tone is appropriately expressed, but it’s the reader’s state of mind that will really determine the tone they hear in your words.  And their state of mind is something that you can’t know.

So do yourself, and those you care enough about to disagree with, a favor and not express disagreement in writing, on the big things that matter.  Oh, the little things that are minor and of little consequence – it’s fine to pipe up about those trivialities in writing.  But when the matter is big enough to care about and you find that you must disagree, help yourself out and express that disagreement in person where you can smooth over any rough spots.  Which I’m assuming you can nicely do.

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