Disagreeing Isn’t The Problem

It’s not disagreeing that’s the problem, it’s how we disagree. Disagreement is healthy. From disagreement we get varying perspectives that lead to deeper insights and, ultimately, better choices.

Given these potential benefits we should express our views when we disagree with what’s being said or done. Failing to do so not only precludes the possibility of gaining the benefits mentioned above, it may have significant costs to all parties involved.

If, as stated, we should express our disagreement, the question is “How do we do so in a way that produces the benefits we desire?”

Disagreeing: natural, ineffective approach

When expressing disagreement our natural tendency is to use phrases like:

  • I don’t agree.
  • That won’t work.
  • That’s impossible.

or more acrimonious statements like:

  • Are you nuts?
  • Where did that come from?
  • On what planet would that be true?
  • What were you thinking?

Even the less acrimonious statements induce defensiveness. Again, our natural tendency is to defend our position. Why? Because we don’t want to lose credibility in the eyes of others. In essence, our tendency to defend our position is a way to protect our ego.

It’s also true that the harder someone tries to prove us wrong, the stronger our desire to protect our ego and, hence, our credibility. As parties escalate the intensity of their arguments, the wall of defense grows higher and higher…so high that the possibility of a well-reasoned solution is nigh on impossible.

Disagreeing: productive approach

The more effective approach to disagreeing uses questions instead of statements. The reason for using questions is that they:

  • Don’t create defensiveness.
  • Get the other party to rethink their position.
  • Allow the other party to reach the same conclusion you have…assuming you’re correct.
  • Enable them to validate their new conclusion with their own experiences.
  • Encourage the other party to act quickly…a byproduct of their being involved in reaching the conclusion.

Let’s see how this works.

Assume that you made a statement with which I disagree. I ask you “How would that work in [this situation]?” My question doesn’t imply that you’re wrong, it simply suggests that I don’t see how it would work in the situation I described. In other words, the question is exploratory, which is how it avoids creating defensiveness on the part of the other party.

As you consider my question, you draw upon your personal experiences. If I’m right that your approach won’t work in the situation I described, you’ll come to that realization on your own. You’ll then convince yourself, based on your own experiences, that your approach won’t work. In other words, you’ll validate the conclusion you’ve reached with your experiences.

This realization leads to an open discussion of how we can amend the approach so that we can make it work regardless of the situation faced. We now have a joint purpose and we’re seeking an answer together.

Once a new solution is crafted the other party is likely to quickly employ the jointly-created approach because they were involved in its creation…and they validated the conclusion with their own experiences.

The only remaining question is “How can you train your mind to use this approach consistently so that you too can enjoy the benefits of disagreeing without incurring the costs associated with our natural approach to disagreeing?”

For you

First, let me share with you a simple way of converting disagreement into questions. Allow disagreements to come to you as they normally would, in statement form, then pause. During the pause add one of the following phrases to convert your disagreement into a question:

  • What would happen if…?
  • How would that work in [this situation]?
  • How could we…?
  • Is it true that…?
  • Is it possible to…?

These simple phrases enable you to disagree by using an exploratory question. That presumes that the tone of your question indicates that you realize that it is you who may be overlooking something in the conclusion you reached.

To develop the habit of using questions, each morning, shortly after rising, remind yourself that you are going to express your disagreements in the form of questions. At the end of the day, shortly before retiring, review your successes during the day. In those instances when you didn’t use questions, recall the other party’s reaction, then determine how you could have handled the situation better.

Remember, we learn more from our mistakes than from the things that go well. Mistakes are beneficial as long as they’re not repeated. By determining how you could have handled a situation better, you train your mind to avoid making the same mistake twice. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your mind embraces the questioning approach to disagreeing.

For our kids

As you see kids employing the natural-tendency approach to disagreeing, help them realize the defensiveness this approach is creating. Share with them some of the mistakes you made before you learned a better way. Then share with them the questioning technique described above. It’s a gift your kids will treasure for the rest of their lives.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, As always I find your insights right on the money! When I am faced with disagreement, I try to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Then I follow the guidelines that you gave us in this article.

    • dfurtwengler

      Makes life a lot easier…as I’m sure you’ve experienced. Thanks Bill.

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