What we can learn through disagreements

Photo by Sebastian Herrman

You don’t have to venture far to find a difference in opinions. It’s everywhere.

You may have found yourself having disagreements with loved ones, friends, co-workers and even those elected to lead us. Often disagreements are viewed in a negative light, but there are some positive aspects to a disagreement.

I just wanted to start off by clarifying that there is a difference between a disagreement and an argument. A disagreement, simply means you don’t agree with the other party, it’s often discussed in a calm and respectful manner, both parties are open to listening to one another, and are okay with one another not having the same shared opinion on a topic. Arguments, however, are more reactive; loud, casting blame, highly emotional, and often has both parties feeling awful at the end.

Over the years, I have come to learn that there is an art to disagreeing. One of the best assets you can bring to any conversation is to simply listen. Often times in disagreements (or arguments for that matter) the other party just wants to be heard.

Giving that person your undivided attention while they express their thoughts hold a lot of power (for both parties). This could also possibly help prevent the disagreement from escalating into a full-blown argument. I have found when you hold space and listen to the other party share their views, oftentimes they are also more willing to do the same for you.

When we listen, people are more likely to open up to share their thoughts and experiences with us. 

Our thoughts and experiences shape our values. Our opinions are formed from thoughts, experiences and values. This is one reason why our personal opinions hold deep meaning for us and others — it is personal.  All of us have had different experiences in our lifetime; both positive and negative. All of us have a story.

When we learn of someone else’s story —or bits and pieces of it — it can bring clarity and understanding as to why they hold their chosen opinion.

Knowledge is power. You may learn something new through a disagreement. You may be in a discussion of a topic that you may not have much knowledge or experience with, which may encourage you to learn more about it. In turn, you could also be in the position of helping someone learn in those moments. I do my best to seek out sources with credibility and that state the facts on issues. Mentioning a reliable source in your disagreement can also strengthen the point that you are trying to make, and in turn may allow the other party to become more open to your opinion, and to conduct further research on the matter.

Ideally in disagreement, when it ends, it’s optimal to come to a place of “agree to disagree”. But what if things aren’t going so well? If the situation seems to escalate or if it’s a conversation that you would rather not have, you can simply say: “I’d rather not talk about this now.”, and you can either change the subject or do your best to gracefully depart from that conversation. Sometimes the other party just may not be open to listening to you or be open to hearing a different opinion at this time. It’s also not about winning or being right, it’s about coming from a place of understanding.

Through disagreements, we deepen our learning of ourselves, others and the world.