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Learning to Agree to Disagree
Disagreeing with others is both natural and necessary. We advance our ideas by struggling through our disagreements with others and by learning how they see things differently. We gain clarity by advocating for what we believe in and hearing the arguments and reasons others offer, in both support and opposition. This is how leaders learn.
But disagreement and advocacy can sometimes create unnecessary conflict when we make our points too strongly or become dismissive of others and their views. There are times to stand your ground and make your views known through strong advocacy, and there are times where the best strategy is to agree to disagree.
Agreeing to disagree is a rational way of saying out loud that there is no point in arguing further about an issue, as both parties have good reasons for believing what they do and are unlikely to change their minds. Rather than simply disengaging from advocacy, it is better to propose that you would prefer to agree to disagree. This is a clear signal that any further discussion is seen as unnecessary or inappropriate, and that the parties can turn their attention to other matters or areas of agreement.
By agreeing to disagree, we don’t feel the urge to resort to inflammatory language or coercive tactics to sway resistant others to our point of view. Instead, agreeing to disagree allows for mutual respect and proclaims the future as a place where mutual influence can once again become the norm.
Whenever leaders perceive that engaging on an issue has a high probability of harming the relationship or of the discussion spinning out of control, the best move is to disengage from advocacy and to agree to disagree. Leaders don’t have to win every argument. Sometimes, they just have to agree to disagree.