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‘I Understand.’ How to Agree to Disagree


Every once in a while, whether you’re working with a difficult client, meeting with your boss, or completing a project with a co-worker, you’re bound to find yourself feeling a little stuck. It can be quite challenging when both parties have expressed their ideas and perspectives clearly, and you’ve heard each other out, and you still disagree — profoundly. You need to come to a place of resolution and move forward, but right now it feels impossible to find common ground. So what can you do?

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(Photo Credit: reynermedia/Flickr)

Consider these ideas for moving on in a positive way.

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1. Recognize when you can’t get any closer.

Sometimes, folks think that they disagree, but as the conversation continues and ideas are clarified, they realize they’ve actually been thinking similarly all along. Or, after further communication, some common ground is revealed and the-once-opposed are able to move forward from a shared position.

However, sometimes there is just no way to meet in the middle. You can tell that no one is going to shift their thinking. You disagree, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. The first trick for moving forward is to recognize when you’re at this point. Continuing to clarify and attempting to convince will not help at all. Once you know minds aren’t going to be changed, it’s time to stop debating and find a way to move forward. Know when you’re at this stage, and hit the brakes.

2. Change the tone of the conversation.

Especially when working with a client, or a boss, it’s important to be polite and professional, even when you disagree. Once you recognize that it’s time to stop hashing out your differences, work on shifting the tone. Find something you do agree with and express that. Maybe insert a little laughter into the conversation if you discover a good opening for it. Consider changing your location, moving to another room, or even just changing your posture or where you’re sitting. Little shifts like this can indicate you’re ready to move on and let it go. Be friendly and calm and the other person is likely to follow your lead.

3. Use some transition language to put the issue to bed.

It can be hard to know what to say and do at this point. You know that progress means moving away from the conversation at hand, not diving in deeper. Still, you have to resolve the topic somehow. At this point, try saying, “I understand.”

Note that you are not agreeing with anything by doing so, and you are also not trying to convince anyone of your position. Saying “I understand,” is a kind of compassionate conversation stopper that opens up a gate to the elusive closure you’ve been seeking. Follow this statement up with a specific, and accurate, compliment, and you’re well on your way. Something like, “I really admire and appreciate how invested you are in this.” Or maybe, “Your insights and ideas are always so interesting. Thank you so much for taking the time to share them with me.”

It’s important that you be genuine here. You’re sending two messages. First, that you respect them; and, second, that you’re done talking. It’s a lot easier to swallow the disagreement when everyone still feels respected. In fact, it’s completely necessary if you’d like to move on without negative ramifications.

4. Don’t take it personally.

This is something to think about in the hours and days following the disagreement, and as you continue your work with this individual in the future. By separating yourself from your position, you can move forward more comfortably. Don’t take the disagreement personally. It’s just a little difference of opinion — it happens. It doesn’t mean that your relationship with this client/boss/co-worker is irreparably damaged, or that you can’t work well together anymore.

Project both confidence and also respect. Show that you know how to handle these sticky disagreements like a champ. Shake it off, and they will too.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you agree to disagree in a professional context? What ideas have worked for you in the past? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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