Posted by: LYF | August 2, 2011

How to disagree with people

Disagreeing with people isn’t something I’m very good at.  If I’m listening to someone and they’re not making sense, my immediate reaction is to tell them they’re wrong.  I learned how to hold back that gut reaction, but then the problem became my face.  People could tell when I didn’t agree with them  – I would stitch my eyebrows together, scrunch my forehead and slowly shake my head back and forth.  I had no clue I was doing this until someone pointed it out.  Afterward I learned how to relax my face and keep my head still.

But in my mind, I was still faking it.  I wasn’t listening.  So then I had to train myself to really pay attention.  “Maybe they’ll be able to convince me?”  I had to turn down the volume on my own thoughts and focus on what this person was trying to tell me.

By this point I had come a long way.  I was actively listening and I wasn’t waiting to jump in with my opinion as soon as the other person was finished talking.  My point of view still needed some work though.  Well not so much my point of view – I didn’t have one.  It would be more accurate to say I needed to develop a point of view.  Like, “what do I want to get out of this?”

Learning was the best one I could come up with.  If you disagree with someone in the context of learning, disagreeing fades to the background because you’re trying to uncover something.  Different opinions are part of the process.  Then most situations become a matter of guiding the conversation – trying to point people in a direction that’s most likely to uncover an answer.

This leads to comments like, “have you thought about doing it this way?” “have you tried this before?” “how did you come to that idea?”  These are directional comments.  They lead you along a path that may give you some insights into a problem.

Then I ran into another problem – trying to keep track of tangents.  One person may think the problem has to do with x, while another may agree with the logic, but points to cause y.  A third may agree with both, assuming the problem is a combination of both x and y together.  How do you guide that?  Do you even need to guide it at that point?  Those are things I think about now when I’m at work.

We’re all listening to each other.  We all want to solve the same problem.  Everyone is giving insight.  How can I help?


  1. Take notes to cope with tangents. In a true learning scenario, forget that you know anything and take in the train of thought, summarize, and say it back to see if what you heard matches what *they* are thinking. Some (many?) suck at communicating and may sound wrong simply because they’re saying it wrong.

    “They said it’s ok” could mean they agree, or they don’t want to do it, depending on context. You need to get clarification when people say things. May lead to less disagreement, or lead to a better understanding of why one or the other party is wrong.

  2. In the unlikely event that I was ever wrong, I think I’d prefer to find out straight away. You seem to have gone to great lengths to make other people feel good about making a mistake? Wouldn’t you learn more from people who say things that are true/right, more than from these guys?

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