The Art of Graceful Disagreement

Disagreement is hard and graceful disagreement is an art that you MUST master.

Have you been in a situation where:

  •  You want to disagree but you don’t know how the other person will feel so you end up agreeing to something that you don’t buy-in
  • You want to be a good sport so you go along even if you don’t agree to a proposition
  • You don’t have the courage to disagree so you end up agreeing to something
  • You don’t know how to disagree
  • You think you don’t have an alternative to offer so you agree to what is being offered.
  • You think you will sound silly if you disagree as all others have agreed to what’s on the table

If you can relate to one or more of the above, then this blog post is for you.

Agreeing to something when you don’t fully believe in it is not helping the other person as your heart is not there. That does not mean that things will always go as per your wishes. No, that’s not the point. In fact, as you grow and learn, there will be LOTS of things that you are not aware of. What is obvious to those with experience maybe rocket science for you. You understand where I am coming from – and you want to learn the gentle art of disagreement. You want your voice to be heard.

Here are some ideas to help you:

1. It starts with yourself:

Your mind is an amazing machine. It can imagine the worst possible scenarios in matter of minutes. It can paint the picture of an impending doomsday about your relationship – all triggered by your disagreement. So, the first step with all these things is to come to terms with disagreements – it is OK to disagree as long as you do it with grace. The second shift in the mindset is that you don’t “win” if you make them agree to what you proposed AND you don’t “lose” if you agree to what the proposed.

2. Ask for more details:

When you don’t agree with something especially when you totally believe that it’s flawed thinking, you start by asking for more details about their plan. Don’t even suggest that you don’t agree with what’s presented – just prod for more details so that they start thinking through the proposition in greater detail. If you know how to ask good questions, soon they will discover the flaws in what they proposed and you don’t have to disagree to make them think about alternate options.

3. Ask them for a contrarian opinion(s):

Why should you break your head if you can gently ask them break their head on their proposition? Simply tell them something like this – “Hmm.. this is very interesting. I am sure you have thought about what are the holes in this plan. Where all do you think this might go wrong. I am asking so that we are well prepared and not bllindsided.” When they start giving out the negatives of the plan, ask them to expand on the negatives a bit more. They will help you by giving you all the ammunition you need to disagree

4. Amplify the alternatives:

Ask them what other options did they seriously consider before reaching the current conclusions. This is where you look for amplifying the alternatives rather than disagreeing with what is being proposed. When you like one of the proposed alternatives, start getting more buy-in for that alternative so that “it” becomes a viable contender on the table.

5. Go back to the drawing board:

It is easier to get to an alternate path when you start revisiting your goal. Sometimes we get mired in the details so much that we forget the real purpose. When you go back to the drawing board, you can re-emphasize on the all the criteria the proposed solution or approach should satisfy to make it a viable proposition. Once you elicit the criteria, start going through each item in view of the proposed solution. If one or more criteria fails to be satisfied, you got an opening for your argument.

6. Walk in their shoes for a short while:

If you blurt out your disagreement the moment you hear a proposition, the message you are sending is that you didn’t understand their point completely – you are disagreeing prematurely. The way to avoid that is by walking in their shoes for a few minutes. Where are they coming from? What led them to reach their current conclusions. As you walk in their shoes, the “why” behind the current proposition becomes clear. This will help you put forth YOUR argument in a much better way.

7. Shift the focus from “them” to “that”:

The fundamental reason why disagreements are hard is because people tend to make it about them and not the issue at hand. When you disagree without grace, the lines start to blur – are you disagreeing with “them” or with “that” approach? While long-term relationships will greatly help as cushions against ego-blow-ups, you need to learn to disassociate the person and the issue very quickly. You are not always in a situation where you have long-term relationships to the rescue. So think about how to gracefully disconnect “them” and “that” issue – the faster you can get there, more open they will be to listen.

What else has worked for you?

Bonus: Remember that not all battles are worth fighting. They can’t get it right all the time and neither can you. Knowing this will help you to be more compassionate to what is being discussed.

Photo Courtesy: Two Cows by Fuzzy Vision on Flickr