We’ve all heard the phrase “agree to disagree.” But how many of us are willing to embrace this concept with compassion and try to understand? How is that even possible?

“Debate” in the Age of Social Media

Disagreement and conflict have not always been easy or fun. Today, things have been taken to a whole new level. Because of the Internet in general and social media in particular:

• We are in touch with way more humans. As a result, the odds of disagreement and conflict have risen dramatically.
• The whole world is watching. Maybe not but it sure feels that way when someone aggressively “attacks” you on a public forum.
• The dynamics have become less personal. Typing on a phone or computer will never be the same as a face-to-face conversation.
• Less personal means fewer consequences. People casually launch into flame wars, saying things they’d never say in person.
• We’re now comfortable with disappearing others from our life. In just a click or two, we delete and block other human beings with little or no remorse.
These new factors—combined with the age-old issues surrounding conflict—make it crucial for us to choose more compassion in our interactions.

8 Ways to Understand Compassionately without Necessarily Agreeing

1. Refine your listening skills

In an age of information overload, listening has become a lost art. Focus on the underlying needs of what is being said and you may find yourself better equipped at understanding without necessarily agreeing.

2. Embrace opportunities to learn

Even if you don’t think you’ll agree—even if you don’t particularly like the person stating an opinion—you may still learn something and surprise yourself.

3. Start off with an “agreement”.

When a statement is made, you may find yourself disagreeing with the premise. But you may agree with some aspect of what’s been said. Open with that. For example, the person may be discussing health care. You can start your reply with: “I agree that this is a topic that impacts everyone.”

4. Identify your emotional triggers to avoid outbursts

The better you know what sets you off, the easier it is to prevent emotional outbursts. You can’t control others. You can take responsible for yourself and your own behavior.

5. Whenever possible, inject some humor

Some situations are too solemn to joke about. But some disagreements leave room for a laugh. Assess the situation and if it feels appropriate, try a little levity.

6. Don’t see everything as a competition

You don’t have to win. There doesn’t even have to be winners and losers. Take the contest aspect out of your mindset.

7. Recognize the difference between friends and ideological colleagues

You may connect with those who share a political belief. This does not necessarily mean you agree on other things. Stay on topic with them. With your true friends, keep in mind that you don’t have to agree on everything to still love each other.

8. Don’t disengage without focusing on what connects you

As the conflict winds down or reaches a stalemate, be sure to remind yourself and the other person about your connection. Verbalize you understand their point by recognizing what is important to them by understanding their underlying need. Recognize you disagree with their strategy for getting their needs met, but it doesn’t have to be a statement on your relationship.

Can Compassionate Disagreement Be Taught?

There are many reasons why we may not find ways to “agree to disagree.” This doesn’t mean we’re wrong or it’s all our fault. There may be underlying issues we don’t see. And, we may operate in unconscious behavioral patterns that impact our interactions with others. Working with a therapist is an excellent way to explore such dynamics. We’ll all be faced with many situations that call for genuine diplomacy. It’s unavoidable. Accepting this reality is a great first step towards healthier communication and better interactions.


By Counseling Wise & Rachel McDavid on November 13, 2017