Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable
It is important for Christians to be able to disagree with unbelievers without being disagreeable. We cannot witness to unbelievers unless we can interact with them in a positive manner. This requires consistently applying several specific people skills, the most important of which is disagreeing without being disagreeable. To develop your ability to disagree without being disagreeable, practice the following strategies:
Listen non-judgmentally without preconceived notions or negative assumptions. Proverbs 17:28 provides sound guidance for Christians who need to learn how to listen non-judgmentally. This verse tells us that even a fool may be considered wise if he remains silent. It is when fools stop listening they reveal who they really are. Learn to use silence wisely. Give others a chance to state their opinions and offer their ideas. As they make their cases, listen carefully. Put aside any preconceived notions or negative assumptions you may have about the speaker or that individual’s ideas or opinions. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen attentively and give others a chance to state their case, make their points, and have their say. Do not let your disagreement register on your face or through other non-verbal cues. When others are stating their opinions, keep your facial expressions and other non-verbal cues in neutral. Remember what is written in Proverbs 18:17. This verse makes the point that people who speak first may seem right for the time being. But their point of view often falls apart upon questioning by others. You will get your chance to question the opinions and ideas of others. Let others state their opinions and make their cases before the examination begins. When it is your turn to comment, remember that a little courtesy, patience, and humility will go a long way toward helping others see your point of view.
Listen for common ground. As you listen to others, avoid focusing solely on areas of disagreement. Note them, but don’t focus solely on them. Rather, also look for areas of common ground. Listening for common ground is a sign of the kind of wisdom written about in Proverbs 2:2. In this verse we are told to make our hearts attentive to wisdom and understanding. Even the smallest items of agreement can become building blocks for establishing broader agreement. Are there parts of the individual’s argument that have merit? Is the speaker making any points that with a little tweaking might make them acceptable? People who find common ground in apparently divergent points of view can use it to build bridges that span differences of opinion. When this happens, seemingly divergent views sometimes begin to merge or, at least, overlap around the edges. Granted, there might not be enough common ground between your opinion and others to render further discussion unnecessary. However, the more common ground you can find, the less there is to disagree about.
Give others time to state their case—do not interrupt. Many people have a tendency to interrupt speakers the minute they say something questionable. Another tendency is to speak up the minute a thought comes to mind, even if someone else is speaking at the moment. Avoid both of these mistakes. Instead, heed the admonition in Proverbs 18:13 where we are warned that giving an answer before listening is foolish. Give people time to state their opinions and present their ideas without interruption. Even if you disagree with what is being said, wait until you have heard the entire argument. There may be information that has not yet been presented that could change your mind. One of the keys to disagreeing without being disagreeable is to respect speakers and to be courteous to them. Interrupting a speaker is disrespectful and discourteous. Further, it puts the speaker on the defensive and singles you out as an opponent rather than someone who is open to listening.
Use questions rather than statements of disagreement. Disagreeing without being disagreeable requires a certain amount of wisdom. Rather than say things like, “That will never work, we’ve tried it before” or “You haven’t thought this through well enough,” use questions to help speakers come to their own conclusions about where they might be off course. Using inoffensive but thought-provoking questions rather than just dismissing someone’s suggestions out of hand is a kinder and gentler way to point out weaknesses in another person’s argument. Ecclesiastes 9:17 applies here. In this verse, we are told the words of wise people heard in quiet will be more effective than those of a ruler who shouts. Thought-provoking questions asked quietly will be more effective in winning converts to your opinions than loudly stated disagreement.
Look for common goals. People can share the same goal, but disagree on how to accomplish it. It is much less disagreeable to be told, “I like where you are going with that idea, but would like to discuss how you plan to get there,” than to be told “Nope, bad idea, won’t work.” When people realize they have the same goal it is less difficult for them to discuss different ways of accomplishing it. Further, people can have worthy goals but less worthy ideas for accomplishing them. It is not uncommon for people to be so convinced of the viability of their goal they give insufficient thought to the means of achieving it. It’s as if they think that since their goal is worthy any means used to achieve it must also be worthy. By gently pointing out you agree with their goal but would like to discuss their plans for achieving it, you can have more influence on what ultimately happens.
Practice these steps and you can develop a powerful human relations skill that is solidly based in Scripture: the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com