When You Disagree: How You Disagree May Be More Important Than the Disagreement Itself

Day 34 of 80 Days of Excellence

How do you disagree? Do you express your disagreement with the person’s actions but affirm that you care about the person? Or, do you defend your opinion so profoundly that you leave the person feeling that you only love them if they agree with you?

when you disagree

When we agree, we can build trust and work together. But when we disagree, that is when we build respect if we do it in healthy ways. With this in mind, when someone disagrees with you but continues to respect you as a person, you know they are the kind of person you can work with for a lifetime.

None of us will agree with each other all of the time. None of us are right all the time.

If you think you’re always right, you just proved yourself wrong.

It is important to realize that if both sides of the disagreement support a worthy cause, they’d both better realize that bystanders don’t really care what you’re disagreeing about. As a result of their observations of your behavior, they’ll ruthlessly judge your cause and your organization by how you disagree.

All things considered, while the matters over which we can disagree can be vitally important, the way in which we disagree can sometimes eclipse the matter over which we argue.

Given these points, I challenge all of us (myself included) to affirm and support people even when we disagree with their actions. I also challenge us to disagree in a way that doesn’t harm the causes and people we love and support.

We can disagree and in fact, we’d better disagree sometimes – at least behind closed doors or we’ll risk groupthink. But learning how to disagree respectfully is a seemingly lost art form in a stop-your-foot and shake-your-fist defriend-your-friend world. When respectful disagreements are observed, it almost always earns the respect of those who see it happening. Additionally, healthy ways of handling disagreement create an environment where progress and the accompanying friction can thrive and move an organization forward.

Can we disagree in healthy, productive ways? If so, we and our organization have one hallmark of excellence.

This post is day 34 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

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2 thoughts on “When You Disagree: How You Disagree May Be More Important Than the Disagreement Itself

  1. Thanks Vicki for sharing this. I’m fascinated by the role of civil discourse both in schools but obviously in society at large. The course I teach includes this but I’m always interested in going deeper.
    I’m considering publishing a post that looks at a couple of examples from education and have folks dissect where things went wrong and what they might do to make the conversation more productive.
    In general, yes, it’s often when people are affirmed for their belief and the discourse turns personal. The challenge is that it’s often very subtle and perhaps hard to parse out. I think we need to get specific in what mean and show people how slight changes in language can either advance or derail potentially important discussions.

    • This would be fantastically helpful. Of course, online conversations may be easier to dissect and face to face may be more subtle and difficult. But I do think that helping people understand specifics can be helpful. It would be so useful to education to have someone like you tackle this. When we have things that happen in class, we stop and discuss what went wrong and how things could have been communicated differently. This is the in the moment teaching that is so important, I think.