Maintain Relationships by Disagreeing Agreeably this Holiday Season

December 4, 2017


Think back to the last major conflict you encountered whether with a colleague, friend or family member. Were you able to handle differences of opinion effectively and maintain a peaceful environment? This can be extremely challenging, especially when “hot buttons” are pushed. Worse yet, when left unresolved, disagreements can waste enormous amounts of time and energy, and destroy relationships.

Last year, the NY Times reported that some people decided to bypass family holiday celebrations fearing potential disagreements about their respective political parties. If you google ‘Thanksgiving family fights,’ there are over six million results, and rightly so. Relationships among colleagues, friends and even family members can definitely be tested when there are strong differences of opinion. There is, however, an alternative to feuding. It’s a skill that must be learned and practiced—the ability to disagree agreeably.

Here are three of Dale Carnegie’s Human Relations principles to apply in order to disagree agreeably.

1. ‘Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.’ Often times, it’s tempting to interrupt someone who has a different opinion, however doing so is usually counterproductive to conflict resolution. Dale Carnegie said, “If you disagree with them you may be tempted to interrupt. But don’t. It is dangerous. They won’t pay attention to you while they still have a lot of ideas of their own crying for expression. So listen patiently and with an open mind.”

2. ‘Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.’ Actively listening to, and considering, everything the other person has to say is important to thwart assumptions and demonstrate respect. Instead of listening solely to respond, consider the other person’s perspective, experiences and ultimate agenda.
Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand exactly what the other person is saying instead of what your gut-reaction interpretation may be. Avoid allowing pride, preference and past experiences to influence your opinion of the topic at hand.

3. ‘Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, “you’re wrong.”’ Instead, consider modifying your language as follows:

  • Use ‘I’ statements. Responding with ‘you’ statements appears as blaming and confrontational to the other person, ultimately putting them on the defense. Starting statements with ‘I’ shows that you’re accountable and expressing your point of view so others can understand what you really mean.
  • Cushion to quell conflict. A cushion is a neutral or connecting statement used when sharing a different opinion. Phrases such as, “I hear what you’re saying…” or “I appreciate your view on…” dilute the point of disagreement and demonstrate respect for the other person’s opinion.
  • Delete the words ‘but’ and ‘however.’ Using the cushion shows that you acknowledge the person’s point of view. If followed by ‘but’ or ‘however,’ the acknowledgement is essentially erased.
  • Communicate with credibility. Facts are facts. Stating your opinion with relevant statistics, studies and other factual evidence defeats doubt. By stating, “This shows that…” you take the focus away from your personal opinion and instead, redirect the other person’s attention to actual facts and evidence.
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