We all have times when we disagree with someone’s opinion, or god forbid, someone disagrees with ours.
And when this happens it can take some major will power to keep your mouth shut or better yet respond in a way that allows you to voice your own opinion while remaining respectful of theirs, especially if you thoroughly disagree with what’s being said.
Whether it’s regarding deeply held beliefs like religion or politics, or simply a strong preference of tea over coffee, there are steps to handle any disagreements that may arise.
Actually listen to what they’re saying.
Sometimes we hear a word or phrase and are triggered into taking an immediate stance. It’s always wise to stay in the moment and actually listen to what the other person is saying. They may be offering up a new perspective on a situation or explaining the reasoning behind their opinion. By letting them complete their thought and allowing time to reflect on what’s being said you’ll be more prepared to respond with a thoughtful coherent reply and be less likely to make a fool of yourself by speaking too quickly or out of turn.
Acknowledge their opinion.
After listening, if you still disagree you should start by acknowledging what they have said before rambling on about your own ideas or attacking their beliefs. It can be as simple as, “I can understand how you feel that way, however in my experience…” By adding even a brief acknowledgment, you make them feel heard, which goes a long way in creating a more civil, not to mention enlightening, conversation.
Share your opinion in a neutral and calm manner.
Of course you have every right to disagree with someone and share an alternative opinion. In fact, if approached with thoughtfulness and respect disagreements can make for the most interesting of conversations. But when it comes time to voice your opinion it’s helpful to consider how you say it. Both in the words and tone of voice to your body language.
You don’t want to sound like you’re attacking or disrespecting the other person. You can make your point while still being polite. Make an effort to speak at a calm even tempo. If you speak too loudly or too quickly it can come off as aggressive. Try not to add sarcasm, disapproval or any attitude to your voice and avoid any physical giveaways such as eye rolls or judgmental smirks.
Respond with positivity.
If you’re in a disagreement chances are you may eventually have to make negative remarks about the other side. But at least when starting off try to lead with a positive. Instead of nitpicking what they say, begin by focusing on what and why you think the way you do. Take this very simplified example…
Someone thinks coffee is the beverage of gods and anyone who doesn’t enjoy a morning cup of coffee is a loon. Instead of responding with arguments as to why coffee is addictive and overly stimulating and in fact an unhealthy choice, you can say that although you understand many people love coffee, you like the way tea is lighter and enjoy the multitude of flavors.
The great thing about responding with a positive comment is you’re minimizing the opportunity for them to respond in an aggressive way, it may even shut down the beginnings of an argument altogether, while still assuring your voice is heard. This can work for both minor and major disagreements. Particularly if it’s a sensitive subject or you’re not looking to get too deep into it. It’s a smart way to keep things light.
Don’t let it become a battle of the egos.
It’s so common to get wrapped up in our ideas and opinions so much so that they start to feel like they define us. When in reality our thoughts are fluid things and separate from us. Yes we may have ingrained beliefs or opinions that we’re certain will never change, but there’s no guarantee. Life can always change and this leads to new outlooks. I’m sure there are cases where you look at a past opinion you had and shutter in embarrassment at your naivety, ignorance or even your taste. Even if it’s a belief you’ve held your entire life it’s still wise to keep a level of distance.
If someone disagrees with or insults your opinion try your best not to take it personally. When it gets down to it, they’re not criticizing you, they’re criticizing an idea. Ideas are not you. And conversely other people are not their ideas, so be sure to only critique someones opinion, never them directly. If we take care to remember this we can approach disagreement from a clear and open mind.
HOMEWORK: The next time you’re confronted with a disagreement remember these points. But as always, it’s usually best to be prepared and practice beforehand. To be sure you’ve got it down, try to think of a past situation where you disagreed with someone. How did you react? Try to reenact it in your head and using the tips from this lessons act out how you would respond if you were in the same situation again.