How to Disagree Respectfully
Heidi Zwart
how to disagree respectfully

The world has given us plenty to fight about. From vaccination status to issues of gender, race, and politics, our world is divided. As a result, we are more polarized and disconnected than ever. The good news is that we can bridge that divide when we learn how to disagree respectfully with these five approaches.

Acknowledge that you could be wrong

Much of the division we are experiencing as a world is the result of a diversity of opinion. We often disagree on what is fact and what’s opinion, but if we approach conversations with the posture of “I could be wrong” we remove a big barrier to good communication. Admitting that we are fallible helps set ego aside and makes room for humility. Defensiveness is less likely to rear its head in the conversation and we can disagree respectfully. Prioritize relational wellbeing over the desire to be “right.”  

Remember that there’s more to the story

We often jump to conclusions about people and situations based on incomplete information. Often, what we see is only the tip of the iceberg. To disagree respectfully, pause and remember that there’s more to the story. Invite understanding by asking good questions and practicing the best type of listening for the situation. Better understanding brings empathy, compassion, and grace as the big picture becomes more clear.   

Appreciate that values play a role in opinions

Each of us carries with us a set of values by which we live life. We are shaped by our faith, family, and friends and  our values matter. When we assume others share our values, we are quickly disappointed when others don’t make the same decision or have the same opinions as us. Learning to disagree respectfully includes appreciating that values will guide opinions and life decisions for each of us. When we do this well, we experience better relational and social wellbeing

Know that personal experiences impact perspective

You can only see the world through your lens. Your gender, ethnicity, family of origin, and sexual orientation shape your personal experiences in the world. The conversations you have with others are filtered through this perspective and impact your worldview. Every person you encounter has their unique lens that looks similar or different to your own, and is often somewhere in between. Recognizing personal biases will help us disagree respectfully more often and encourage us to be a better listener

Assume that others are not intending harm

Most of us are more concerned with avoiding pain ourselves than we are about causing it for others. Remembering that other people are not usually intending harm will help us disagree respectfully when we are tempted to think otherwise. When we enter a conversation with someone who has a different opinion, assume positive intent. Expect that the other may be trying to avoid pain rather than cause it for us. 

Learning how to disagree respectfully takes practice. Which of these five approaches stood out to you? Initiate a conversation today with someone you may disagree with and see how one of these approaches works for you.

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