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  • Dr. Julie Olsen

I Respectfully Disagree, or Do I?




Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be an extremely passionate and often opinionated person. That passion can serve me well when I’m trying to inspire people or teams towards a good cause or encourage others to success. However, that same passion also has the potential to impact conversations in a negative way if we don’t agree. Sadly, I have to admit it took me too long to learn how to respectfully disagree and still maintain a positive relationship so please learn from my experience.


Even the most agreeable people won’t always agree with you and learning how to discuss the situation respectfully can enhance relationships. It's important to realize that it is okay to disagree with someone if you do so respectfully. Here are a few tips to disagree while maintaining respect for others involved.


Stay Objective and Keep Emotion Out of It


Try to stay calm and keep your emotions out of the conversation. Emotions can quickly grow out of control and lead the argument to something that isn't respectful and may damage the relationship. One of the best ways to keep emotion out of an argument is to remind yourself to focus on the situation, the facts, and a resolution. Avoid anything that is based purely on emotions that may derail the focus and keep you from finding a solution.


Don’t Let It Get Personal


While you disagree with the views of the person you are arguing with, you do not disagree with them as a person, and it is important to remember that important difference. If you are like me, it can be difficult to think before you speak but ensure that everything that comes out of your mouth is factual and informational. Avoid anything that is an attack on the other person’s character or personality.


Listen First


I admit, this can be hard! In the peak of a disagreement, it can be easy to get focused on your perspective and begin to speak over the other person, but this is not respectfully disagreeing. If you are not careful, this strategy can lead you into a stalemate or escalate to an all-out yelling match, neither of which are satisfying or helpful.


When you find yourself in a disagreement, especially in a professional setting, make sure you listen first. It is tempting to do the type of "listening" that involves thinking of your response, so you are ready to counteract their perspective when they are finished. Take the time to focus on what they are saying and consider their situation and mindset. You might find that you are actually closer together on the issue than you imagined, or you might find common ground for further discussion.


It isn’t always easy to respectfully disagree, especially when arguments involve a very emotional topic or event. Next time you find yourself in an argument, keep it respectful by keeping emotion out of it and not letting it get personal. Then, make sure you listen to the other person and consider their perspective rather than talking over them or focusing on what you will say next. Following these tips will help to approach disagreements in a more respectful manner.


"You can disagree without being disagreeable."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg


If you are interested in learning more about effective communication strategies, contact me at julieolsen@workplaceadvancement.com.