How to Disagree in ways that Improve Outcomes

Let's agree to disagree.


A Helpful Guide to Disagreeing better.

Disagreement is a common part of life. Without it we would not be able to challenge and improve our society or think differently about our futures. Disagreement is a crucial activity that challenges the status quo. Unfortunately, the act of ‘disagreeing’ is often done in such a way that it destroys the potential value of the message. Our emotions get in the way and we behave badly when disagreeing with others. Despite the unconsciously destructive ways in which people voice their disagreement about things, the purpose and potential of disagreement to change things for the better is significant.

So how do we approach disagreement? And in such a way that creates constructive discussion and not mudslinging or personal arguments which miss the point of the disagreement in the first place?

How do we create fertile ground for better answers and solutions by approaching disagreement from a less personal and more approachable perspective?

Here are some useful thoughts about disagreement, which you can consider the next time you are thinking about disagreeing with someone. It may be a colleague, a boss or your community forum leader. The key points remain the same.



Pick Your Disagreements Carefully

There is probably nothing more irritating than someone who is always disagreeable. This is usually somebody who finds any reason to disagree about anything and everything. If you want to become better at proactively and constructively disagreeing about things you don’t agree with, make sure you pick your battles carefully.

Choose important points to challenge rather than every aspect of the other perspective that you don’t like. People who choose which disagreements to tackle over others are more likely to have thought through the underlying ‘why’s’ for voicing their disagreement in the first place. If you have chosen your disagreements with this underlying rationale in place it is far more likely that you will approach your disagreement with constructive reasoning rather than vitriol.


Understand the Stakes Involved More Clearly

Before disagreeing with somebody it is always a good idea to find out more about what is going on. Probe with questions that illicit more underlying information about the issue at hand. By doing this you are focussing first on generating an understanding of what is actually going on before you voice your disagreement. This limits the amount of disagreement that you enter that is founded on a lack of awareness of the facts and the underlying motivations involved.

Sometimes just by understanding more you are able to avoid the need for disagreement at all. By unpacking ‘what is really going on here’ you can formulate a far more focussed and relevant case with which to use in disagreement.


Find the Calm Before You Do

When disagreement turns personal is it rarely constructive. If you feel you must disagree with something or someone, make sure you are calm and focussed on the issue and not the person. Disagreement brings out our animal instincts of defence, so it is crucial that we do not come across as a direct threat when we disagree. Without calm it is impossible to disagree and get the value of your message across clearly.



Find Respect for Your ‘Opponent’

Disagreement without an attitude of respect for your opponent does not achieve anything except resistance and defensive response. Before you disagree try to find respect for the other persons position. Driven from this perspective it will be more likely that you will be heard and considered when you do disagree. If your opponent feels that you do not respect them then they will also not listen to anything you have to say. Your disagreement will be worthless.


Talk from Your Own Perspective and for Yourself 

Rather than criticizing and finding fault in the other persons views, raise your own perspective and beliefs which positions your view of the situation without attacking or diminishing the other persons perspective.


Discern Between Facts and Fiction

Before you disagree make sure you are in possession of some solid facts which support your view on the matter. Facts speak louder than pure opinion so let them speak for themselves if you can. If you have validated facts on your side, rely less on emotional will and opinion to do the job. Let the facts speak for themselves.


Find Common Ground to Work Towards

Find a common goal or perspective that is shared and agreed upon before you disagree on your specific issue. By establishing common ground first you are also reminding yourself and the other person that you have some shared values, beliefs and goals which supersede the current potential for disagreement, and which maintain a greater sense of reason and direction for you both to find a way through the disagreement to the other side. It is good if you can create a reminder which says “this disagreement is happening because we both feel strongly about commonly shared beliefs and goals. We can get through this constructively by remembering we are both looking for better answers within a common purpose.”


Don’t Disagree to Win, Disagree to Clear the Air and to Establish Greater Thinking Together

The best disagreements don’t keep a score. If you are trying to win then you have missed the point of constructive disagreement. Rather try to clarify what is going on, clearly voice your point of view, understand your opponent’s view, and then seek out an agreed way forward. Finding a better outcome from two differing perspectives is more important than one winning over another. This way you avoid having a winner and a loser, and instead you gain a thinking partner.



Constructive disagreement is a skill that allows you to be open and honest about your views and feelings, without raising the hackles and neurological defences of your colleagues, friends and other potential opponents. Disagreement is very rarely about finding right or wrong, but rather about finding a better way through something together. We often forget this and default to winning and losing, which is fine on the sports field but unsuitable in our search for better answers in life.

James Lewis

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9 Responses

  1. Constructive disagreement is somethin i need to work on and i am implementing in my current situation

  2. You cannot agree with all, every day. However to understand the one you are not in agreement with is vital.

  3. I wish more people can read this extract, especially this week more that ever. We can disagree but there are ways to disagree and we have to assess what is at stake.

  4. Thanks for an inciteful piece, I’ve always struggled with being politically correct. Having tools to help disagree with people in a constructive way will help me in the long run for sure.

  5. Disagreement is very hard for me, I linger with feelings for long, so this article is extremely helpful for me.

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