Let’s Agree to Disagree
I had the most incredible conversation with a complete stranger the other day. And the best part about it was that we didn’t agree on anything. We found ourselves on the topic of politics (a generally high-risk conversation starter) and quickly realized that we weren’t going to see eye to eye. For 45 minutes we discussed everything from economics to social issues to elections and we disagreed. And I say that very intentionally, because we never argued, we never debated, but we did disagree. On everything to be exact! And at the end of our conversation he said that he would vote for me if I ran for office. Obviously surprised, I asked him why and his response was, “Because I think you’d be fair”. And for some reason that felt like the highest honor.
The way that we had disagreed was so different than what I have come to expect. I’ve had so many conversations like ours in the past that disseminate into frustration, insults, and bad reasoning. Instead, our conversation was kind, intelligent, and thoughtful. I will probably never see that person again, but our interaction was really enlightening. We need to disagree more.
We need to disagree with our friends when they are making choices we don’t support. We need to disagree with our family when we know they are wrong. We need to disagree at work when we think things could be better. Disagreeing, when done right, is the key to our growth, change, and transformation. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Disagreeing takes courage, conviction, and care. We apologize for disagreeing, we feel the need to justify and explain ourselves, and sometimes we don’t voice our opinions at all because we don’t want to rock the boat. We have to change the way that we think about disagreements so that we can invite and encourage them instead of avoiding or villainizing them. Then, we can capitalize on all of the benefits of healthy, constructive disagreement. Disagreement is good for us because it:
- Demonstrates care and interest: We wouldn’t disagree if we didn’t care. The act of speaking up shows that we value and are invested in the topic at hand.
- Asks us to be knowledgeable and aware: In order to disagree, we have to be informed and prepared, if we aren’t, then we can’t very well contribute meaningfully to the conversation.
- Challenges us to problem solve: If we challenge each other just for the sake of it then we are asking for conflict. But, if we challenge each other with the intent to find a solution, then we are actually thinking critically and trying to improve.
- Slows down our process: The fastest and easiest way isn’t always the best way. Encouraging disagreements means that we involve everyone in our process and can capitalize on the diversity of our group. This takes time and consideration but also helps to build critical and communicative relationships.
- Resolves conflict productively: Disagreements are a form of conflict, but they don’t have to be bad, scary, or negative. They can help us to see that conflict is an inevitable and important part of working together with others. This helps us to develop the skills and tact to resolve conflicts in a way that propels us forward.
- Asks us to evaluate ourselves: Disagreements occur because of some form of disconnect. This process asks us to reflect on and evaluate our own preferences, biases, and ways of working that might result in that misunderstanding. Then, we have to make adjustments so that we can resolve the matter.
- Results in meaningful dialogue and action: Most importantly, dissent makes us or our product, whatever that is, better. This happens because when we challenge the status quo we have to collaborate in order to do something different and new.
There is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that says, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress”. I really think that this rings true. When we can disagree with each other honestly, empathetically, and respectfully then we are actually taking our first steps to better understanding. It’s okay to disagree. In fact, let’s agree to disagree more.
I’ve spent a lot of time since then trying to figure out how to replicate my experience. These are the key elements of that conversation that I think set it apart:
- We slowed down
- We asked thoughtful questions
- We listened to understand
- We managed our emotions
- We validated each other’s experiences
- We acknowledged our own limitations
- We sat in our discomfort
Give disagreeing a try this week and implement some of these strategies into your conversation!
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.
If your group is going through the Adjourning stage, try some of these activities to help your group transition and adjust: