Can You Agree to Disagree?

Friends Arguing

A difference of opinion is, many times, best solved when you agree to disagree.  Granted, this is sometimes viewed as a cliche, but in practice is done so for the sake of maintaining good relations.

When opposing views, even if well-explained, will seem to "land on deaf ears," when you know that attempts to persuade will accomplish nothing, and before you enter into conflict, it is time to leave the situation on a note of mutual respect ("John, we clearly differ on this issue and we should stand in mutual respect by letting this go."

Every disagreement doesn’t have to end with a win.  And ending it this way does not indicate that you have accepted another person's or opponent’s point of view.  Nor does it mean you are weak.

It is actually a way of saying, “Live and let live.”

Avoid Emotion

Argumentation is the process of persuasion.  But when you are passionate about the subject of your argument, emotion can squeeze itself in edgewise, and your desire to persuade can turn into a need to control someone’s belief or opinion.

Keeping your emotions in check will help you remain in persuasion mode and avoid the desire to control.  Just as important, it will help you think and speak more clearly on the topic at hand.  You will also know if and when you should exit the conversation.

Clarity is a great and helpful tool, but it suffers when strong emotions are present.  It’s always best to keep your cool!

Can You Agree to Disagree as an Aim for Civility?

Emotional reactions to a difference of opinion can offset your desire to be respectful, and vice versa. 

Aim for civility by establishing personal rules that help you manage yourself in any situation.  It's okay to tell yourself, "The tone of this message is completely disrespectful, so I don't have to reply to it."

Holding a proper respect for yourself and respectfulness of others will, at times, include leaving a situation that is getting out of hand. 

Beginning a dialogue where there may be differences of opinion, up front it's good to say that however the discussion goes, you agree to disagree.  And during the discussion:
“Sarah, you may be right.  But I prefer to stick with my opinion right now.  Can you agree to disagree on this and talk about something fun?  I’d love to hear about your trip to Italy.”

You've acknowledge that Sarah’s point is valid – even if only for her.  You also expressed your desire to maintain your stance, and choose to move the conversation on to a subject she may be just as happy to talk about.

When You Don’t Reach Your Target

What if you've aimed for civility and misfired? 

  • "Sarah, I apologize.  I've gotten emotional and haven't added to our conversation.  Could we change this strand of our conversation?  What do we agree on?"
  • "Guys, we just don't agree on this subject.  I'm becoming rude and I don't want our conversation to end on this note.  May we agree to disagree?"

If emotion has escalated and you’ve tried to calm the situation down, but the other person is angry and “shouting out,” for example, on social media, you can effectively walk away by deleting comments or unfriending.   Things can be left unspoken.

If you are at a gathering, you can find someone else to speak to.  Or, you may be in a position in which you need to leave altogether.

Try and make your exit as pleasant as possible.  You can always reach out at another time if you desire.

If you are in a virtual gathering and conflict has arisen, it’s especially important to state the fact that you agree to disagree.  Let the conflict go.  Stick to the high road.  Saying less or nothing further on the subject equals an exit.

The Ultimate Outcome

Achieving an attitude of civility is a guiding principle of etiquette.  Agreeing to disagree is an act of toleration, and toleration is the foundation of respect.  When we acknowledge that others have a right to beliefs different than our own, even though we might not agree with or approve of those ideas, we are being respectful.

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