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The Art of Disagreement

“So you’re telling me you think that all of our country’s problems can be traced back to what Obama did wrong?” Fred asked, arms tightly folded across his chest.

“I didn’t say that,” Bert responded tapping his chest. “If Obama wasn’t in office though, we wouldn’t be facing half the problems we’re facing today, like all the jobs going overseas.”

“Like that’s Obama’s fault?” Fred responded, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Like yes! What are you a commie? Don’t you see what all these liberals have done?”

“Right now, I only see one thing. And that’s what a moron you are!”

Imagine where this “conversation” is going! No surprise that Fred and Bert’s relationship has zipped downhill, despite their friendship being decades old.

Too bad! Disagreeing disrespectfully is so easy. You shout, give quick digs, “got cha” comebacks, name-calling, disdaining, disparaging the other’s viewpoint, shaking your head in disbelief – how could you even think that way???

In contrast, disagreeing respectfully is so much harder. And rarely, if ever, are we taught how to do so. Moreover, in the heat of an argument, the gut feelings that kick in are far from respectful.

I hope you appreciate the value in learning how to respectfully disagree. What follows are five ways to develop this skill. And please, appreciate that this skill applies not only to political disagreements but to disagreements with anybody on any topic.

  1. Acquire more information about the other person’s viewpoint. Don’t just catch the drift of it. Ask questions to learn, not to dispute. Then, listen to the answers with an open mind. Be curious, non-judgmental.
  2. Keep seeking to understand, rather than to retort. Be willing to entertain ideas that are unusual, even alien to you. To help you understand, ask questions that begin with:
    What? –“What do you think we could do about…….?”
    How? – “How do you think that will improve the situation?”
    Why? – “Why do you think that will work?”
  3. Listen attentively to the answers. You’re not listening unless you’re learning something. So, silence your “yes, but…..” Stop planning your response. Just keep on listening with an open mind until you can view what the other person is saying from his or her perspective.
  4. Seek to find a point of agreement. Even if you’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, there’s almost always something that you can agree on. “Yup, looks like we both agree that politics is a messy business.”
  5. Disagree respectfully. To disagree respectfully you must first appreciate the other person’s viewpoint; not just have a buzz word for him (i.e. he’s “a liberal”). You need to grant him some respect (not just write him off as “a moron”). Even if you don’t agree with his line of reasoning or his understanding of the facts, you can have some empathy for his quest (“you’re concerned about “jobs going overseas.”)

Our country has gotten so polarized that it’s tough for many of us to communicate with each other with anything approaching respect. If we trash – rather than listen to – those who disagree with us, how are we ever going to find solutions to the problems we face?

So, how about starting now to put into practice the skills I outlined. And to make it easy for you, start with a conversation at home. Perhaps you can open a dialogue with your teen, who disputes almost everything you say. Employ the five points above. Notice at the end of the conversation, if you and your teen, understand each other better and feel more loving toward one another.

Now, employ the five steps with someone you disagree with politically. I don’t expect you to end up as kissing cousins after your conversation. But I do hope that you might have a better understanding of the other person’s viewpoint and perhaps even find some middle ground that you both agree on.

Here’s to becoming more skilled at the art of disagreement!


The Art of Disagreement

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). The Art of Disagreement. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 1 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.