The Ability to Respectfully Disagree

Quote of the Week

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
— Golda Meir

The Ability to Respectfully Disagree

by Michael Angier

A critical key to success in your career and in your life overall is developing and maintaining good relationships. In fact, “Relationships” is number five of the Ten Pillars of a World Class Business.

Our relationships with coworkers, suppliers, spouses, clients, bosses, siblings, employees, competitors and parents affect everything we do. Our success is highly dependent upon these relationships.

And it’s not enough to be likable. Being agreeable and good natured are admirable traits. But in order to effect real change–in order to be a leader–one must often go against the norm. To make a difference, we often have to disagree with people and take different positions. Just going along with everyone will not work.

People are often surprised at how diverse my friends and business associates are. I have good relationships with people who are liberal and conservative, religious and secular. I seem to be able to get along with people from different cultures, with dissimilar philosophies and even divergent values.

I credi­t this to usually being tolerant and respectful. I like people and I learn something from almost everyone. I don’t need to be right–even though I like to be. I also don’t believe there is only one way, one path, one right answer.

The trick is to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We want to respect others and have others respect us.

I think it starts with respecting others enough to listen to their points of view–and to do this regardless of whether or not we agree with them. The more you understand, the more you validate their viewpoint, the more likely it is they’ll respond in kind and you’ll have a better relationship.

There’s real truth in the old adage, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much we care.” And I love Stephen Covey’s profound maxim, “seek first to understand.”

We all know that a response to someone’s viewpoint like, “That’s stupid!” is near the worst end of the spectrum. Here are a few on the other side. Be aware: they require you to be sincere and won’t work unless you are.

“That’s an interesting viewpoint. You must have a good reason for thinking that way. Do you mind telling me what it is?”

“I think I understand what you’re saying, but could you tell me more about how you arrived at your opinion?”

“That’s interesting. And I see it somewhat differently. May I explain?”

“I see what you’re saying. I have another way of looking at it . . .”

There are many more. The point is to respond with respect, courtesy and honesty.

Copyright Michael Angier & Success Networks International. Used with Permission. Michael Angier is the founder and president of

Coaching Call to Action

Commit to improving your ability to talk about controversial things in a responsible, respectful and tolerant fashion. You’ll get better with practice, but you won’t practice and experiment unless you’re committed to doing it well.

Then do it. Respond, don’t react. Be considerate without being abrasive. Speak your truth with compassion.

After discussions, think about how you might have responded better–how you could have listened better, demonstrated more respect and been more tolerant. Don’t make yourself wrong for it, just notice what you do and then resolve to do it better next time.