How To Disagree Politely

All of us disagree with others at times. Here are some useful tips for managing discord with grace and finesse.

It's easy to get along with another person until you disagree. That's when things get sticky. Many of us have trouble managing our emotions, sharing our viewpoints, and inviting the opinions of others.

Since disagreement is inevitable in the course of extended communication, here are some practical tips for sharing a dissenting perspective without irreparably damaging a relationship with the speaker.

1. Be a good listener. The first thing to do in any communication setting where disagreement rears its curious head is to listen carefully to the other person's opinion. That includes asking questions for clarity and affirming the person's comments periodically with expressions like "um hm," "oh?," and "hm" while nodding or smiling politely. Only when we fully understand an opposing viewpoint can we hope to adequately articulate our own. Being a polite listener increases the likelihood that your views will likewise fall on willing ears.

2. Address a specific point with which to disagree rather than the entire position. For example, if you disagree with a social issue, you may be able to understand why some folks feel the way they do, or why they desire a particular benefit. But you may not be able to endorse the means of achieving that benefit. Simply say so, which will limit the conflict to a small part of the whole and decrease the risk of an all-out verbal war.

3. You can deny someone's perspective but not the person. Don't get involved in making personal attacks on someone who disagrees with you. That only gets the discussion off focus and escalates differences to the point that relationships are in danger of being harmed or severed. Avoid "you" statements, such as "You're all wrong about this." Instead, emphasize the issue: "That position is understandable, but it does not take into account the moral aspects of the counter-position."

4. Stay calm. If you feel yourself tensing up, mentally force your palms to open, your arms to relax, and your posture to unbend a bit. Remember to make casual eye contact with the other person, and try to smile in a polite or understanding way unless something truly outrageous is said. Remember that most people will be more willing to share their views and entertain opposing ideas with someone whom they feel safe in airing delicate positions. If you retreat, become forceful, or take a sarcastic tone, you may well annoy the person into refusing to interact with you in the future.

5. Agree to disagree. When you cannot reach consensus, remain cordial. It is wise to accept a disagreement that cannot be resolved so that the relationship remains intact. Even in important issues, keeping the friendship door open means either of you can slip through to open negotiations in the future. Two or more people need not agree on every point.

The bottom line is to remain respectful and polite, even if the other person fails to do so. Self-control is a universal virtue admired by all. The man who controls his spirit is like one who conquers a city, the Bible says. So keep disagreements in perspective and watch for subtle opportunities of sharing your viewpoint without badgering or belittling others.

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