Compassionate Disagreement

I was going through my desk the other day and found an encouragement card I had received from a pastor and leader from several years ago.  It is an interesting compliment.  Here it is:

“I always appreciated how well you disagree with people, including me.  It’s a rare skill today to be respectful, open, and yet honest and articulate about your own perspectives.”

How would you like to be known as someone who disagrees as one of your hallmark qualities? 

One of my philosophies about conflict and truth is: “For fear of being critical we no longer engage in critical thinking.”  In an effort to get along we go along.  

It’s one thing to argue and be argumentative, but it’s another thing to be able to disagree respectfully.  

So often when people disagree with each other, it puts them on the defensive.  They feel attacked, and they are entering a win/lose conversation [confrontation]. Someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose and how can I keep from losing? If you’re a competitive person this truth creates a competitive tension you can’t resist.  You. Must. Win. 

So how can we be respectful and disagree? How can we state our views without being obnoxious? How can we put pride aside?  

  • Hear them. Really listen. When you’re listening, you’re not talking. 
  • Use clarity statements like, “so, what you’re saying is____.” 
  • Use response words and phrases like have you considered, understand, or even “I respectfully disagree…” when stating your opinion.
  • Or simply say, “my opinion is_____” It’s important to be clear it’s your opinion. 

If you’re at an impasse, everyone is “dug in,” and confirmation bias reigns, you may have to just put personal opinions aside and protect the relationship.

However, not everything is a matter of personal opinion.  There is a thing called truth.  If truth is a matter of everyone’s personal truth then there is no objective or universal truth.  That breeds chaos, confusion, and narcissism. You are the center of your world.  

The only way we can move with freedom together is to consider the needs of the other.  When you disagree with compassion, empathy, and understanding, we can support and serve each other even through disagreements. 

The Key words here are “serve each other.”  

For example, if I am dining with someone I know to be an alcoholic, I will ask them if it would bother them if I had a glass of wine.  If it does, I will have water or tea instead.  I don’t argue my right to have a drink, I consider the needs of the ones I am with.  It’s the respectful thing to do. 

A friend of mine once said: “It’s not about who’s right, but what’s right.”  

As a leader, we need to lead with compassion, understanding and empathy because that is the right thing to do.  And when we do, we indeed have willing and passionate followers—even if they disagree. 


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