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How to Disagree Without Destroying the Relationship
Sarita Maybin Sarita Maybin
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Diego, CA
Friday, June 9, 2023


Sadly, it seems that the ability to disagree without destroying the relationship is a lost art.  People seem to have forgotten how to constructively express their differences of opinion without digressing into a name-calling free-for-all. Interactions on social media are an exasperating example of our society’s loss of civility—especially during these unprecedented times.

Certainly, there are times when the other person’s views are so disrespectful, disparaging and denigrating that we may choose to no longer associate with that person.

However, if we do choose to have a dialogue despite our differences, we can communicate constructively and we can disagree without destroying the relationship.

The key is HOW we disagree: Taking ownership of our opinions instead of blaming, making requests instead of demanding and seeking solutions instead of dictating.

For example:

“I’d appreciate you hearing me out.” instead of “You keep interrupting me”
“My experience has been different.” instead of “You’re wrong!”
“How can we make this work?” instead of “Here’s what you need to do.”

How to Disagree – Sit Down and Listen

Sometimes the hardest part of the conversation is listening to someone else’s view that runs smack dab in the face of what we believe.  How then can we disagree without destroying the relationship?

In the words of Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Here are some things we can say to let the other person know they’ve been heard—even when we don’t agree with what they’ve said:

  • I understand
  • I see your point
  • Got it
  • I hear you
  • I appreciate you sharing

All those phrases could be followed with the word and along with how you see the situation. I understand you’ve had that experience and here’s what I’ve experienced. Or I appreciate you sharing your experience and that helps me understand your view.

However, we should avoid the but at all costs. As you’ve probably heard, whenever we follow a statement with that word it negates what you’ve said before it. So, I understand but… becomes I don’t understand or worse, I don’t want to understand.

Also, keep in mind body language which reveals the reality of whether we really want to hear what the other person has to say. Note that head nod means “I understand” and not “I agree” and whether we like it or not, arms folded across the chest is most frequently interpreted as closed mind.

How to Disagree – Do What Athletes Do

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and author of the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It, shared a powerful perspective on preparing for a difficult conversation:

“Do what athletes do. They prepare by envisioning their performance.”

When you know you’re about to have a conversation with someone whose views are radically different from your own, his advice allows you to set a positive tone. Try this:

  • Picture yourself having a calm tone of voice instead of one that is loud and angry.
  • Shift into a positive mindset; think about gratitude even if just being grateful for the opportunity to engage in open dialogue.
  • Set a goal of listening and summarizing rather than one of trying to win over the other person.

At the end of the day, the common denominator is that everyone wants to be acknowledged, appreciated, and seen for who they are. Although generalizations and assumptions abound, what I’ve found is that turning around negative views happens one person, one interaction at a time. We win when we can look into the eyes of another person, whether it be in-person, or virtually from afar, and conjure up the words from the award-winning movie The Avatar:  “I see you.”

[This blog includes excerpts from Sarita’s newest book Say What You Mean in a Nice Way.]

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Sarita Maybin
Dateline: San Diego, CA United States
Direct Phone: 760 439-8086
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