You don’t have to be disagreeable when you disagree

When a friend makes a remark about the weather that you disagree with, it’s easy to dismiss such a trivial matter without getting upset. However, if the subject changes to politics, religion, or other sensitive subjects, a simple misunderstanding can become a disagreement, which then leads to a quarrel, which, in turn, could end in bitterness and a breakup.

Friendships are too important to break up over silly squabbles. What’s the point of ‘winning’ an argument if it results in losing a friend? To prevent needless breakups, arm yourself with a basic understanding of human nature and how we communicate. You may find one or more of the following points helpful on your journey to these goals.

Most disagreements are caused by misunderstandings. That is, you disagree with someone not because you have a different opinion, but because you misunderstand the opinion of your friend. The first thing to keep in mind is that misunderstandings are unavoidable. The bad news is misunderstandings can become quarrels. The good news is that with awareness, you can change misunderstandings to understanding and acceptance, which will deepen your friendships.

Why is misunderstanding inevitable? Well, it’s got to do with the nature of casual communication. Let’s say I’m among a circle of friends and wish to share an idea, and it’s my turn to speak. The idea is completely clear in my mind, but to explain it in great detail is somewhat laborious. Besides, if my explanation is too long-winded, I’m apt to be cut off by a friend who is eager to jump into the discussion. So, to make my task less laborious and reduce the likelihood of being cut off in mid-sentence, what do I do? I abbreviate, shorten, and clip my ideas to get them out faster and easier. However, by reducing the details of my point, I unwittingly introduce vagueness and ambiguity. This lack of clarity leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

If it is your turn to speak, you can reduce the chances of being misunderstood by introducing just one point at a time. You will usually have enough time to present your case clearly if you stick to one point at a time. If it is your friend who is doing the speaking, remember that most likely you are just hearing a small part of what they wish to say and can easily misinterpret their point. So, before disagreeing, ask for confirmation of what you think they are trying to say. The formula for success is simple enough: your friend’s statement + your request for verification + your friend’s clarification = (in most cases) understanding and agreement. Here’s another way to express this idea. If you think you disagree, don’t get enraged by the conversation. Instead, get engaged in the conversation by verifying and clarifying.

Even after verifying and clarifying, you may still disagree with your friend. Such disagreements are unavoidable because of our differences. As long as we remember that it is our differences that provide learning experiences and variety to life, we will be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Learn to become tolerant. Tolerance is expansive. It is about growth and enjoyment.

Tolerance does not mean accepting those who disagree with us because they have a right to be wrong. On the contrary, they are not wrong, for there is a kernel of truth in every opinion that differs from our own. Our job, if we wish to maximize joy and growth in our lives, is to search for those kernels of truth. Our job is to learn from one another, not disagree with one another. The aim of discussions, intellectual arguments, and debates is not to win, but to grow. Tolerance leads not only to a growth in wisdom, but to a growth in freedom, for as Thomas Jefferson (1743 ~ 1826) said, “Freedom is meaningless unless you can give it to those with whom you disagree.”

The tolerant person recognizes everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Therefore, they don’t try to change others. In fact, to try to do so is folly. For as Marilyn Furgeson explains, “No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, neither by argument nor by emotional appeal.”

An insidious habit and another cause for disagreement is the need for some people to always be right. This may come as a shock to some, but none of us are always right. In other words, that friend that you disagree with could be right and you wrong! Hard to believe, isn’t it? So, if you want the last word in an argument, try saying, “I guess you’re right.” To understand that you may be wrong is the beginning of wisdom. After all, we are all subject to bias, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, lack of understanding, or ignorance. And as Pierre De Beaumarchais (1732 ~ 1799) wrote, “It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them.”

There are many more reasons why we disagree with others and they include the following. a) We may disagree because we wish to appear independent and do not want to appear to be a follower. b) We may find fault with the demeanor of the speaker, rather than with the argument being made. c) We may seek control. If we disagree and anger the other party, it puts us in control of their feelings. d) We may misinterpret a friend’s different opinion as a personal attack and become defensive. e) We may want to show off. But we are warned by Sa’di (Shaykh Muslih al-Din Sa’di Shirazi, 1184 ~ 1291), “Whenever you argue with another wiser than yourself in order that others may admire your wisdom, they will discover your ignorance.” To this, Robert Quillen adds, “Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of ignorance.”

If you are married, your most important friend is your spouse. Why not repeat to your spouse the words of ‘Dr. Love’ (Leo Buscaglia, 1924 ~ 1998), “A single rose can be my garden. a single friend, my world.” Then add, “YOU are my friend and my world.” And prove it by mastering the art of compassionate communication: the art of listening, learning, and being sensitive and supportive. Eliminate quarrels at home. But should one occur when your guard is down, use it to deepen your relationship by quickly apologizing and making up.

Summing up, the next time the temptation to disagree rises in our throats, let’s pause and analyze why we wish to disagree, clear up any misunderstanding, search for a kernel of truth in the opposing viewpoint, practice tolerance, welcome diversity, and say a kind word. I’ll leave you with something to think about with another quote from Robert Quillen: “There are glimpses of heaven to us in every act, or thought, or word that raises us above ourselves.”