The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

It’s been said that opinions are like noses, everyone has one, writes Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken.



Not only that, but some people have opinions on an astonishing number of topics! In fact, it’s possible to have an opinion on, well, anything. Religion, music, art, fashion, food, sports, cars, books, people and lest we forget, politics. Especially politics.

Opinions are not bad things. On the contrary, to have taken a close look at something, weighed it up and measured it against our values and standards and come to an informed opinion or conclusion is a great thing to do. We can find we have vastly differing opinions from our colleagues, family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with that.

We are influenced by a wide range of things, such as our upbringing, culture, peers, parents and the experiences we have along the way. There’s a lot of fun to be had in a good robust discussion and a bit of banter over a topic.

Sometimes, however, we can draw conclusions and form opinions on the slenderest of information. We can generalise, jump to conclusions, slam the door of our mind shut, dig our toes in and, generally, go-off half-cocked. Arguments are more likely to happen, not because we have differing opinions, but because of how we put them forward. I’m sure most of us can call to mind an "opinionated" table-thumping finger-pointing person who insists their opinion is the only one, the correct one and the rest of us must be idiots for thinking otherwise.

The art of delivering our opinions lies with us being gracious. By that I mean being tactful, polite and courteous. I think it’s about trying to respond — rather than reacting — to a differing opinion. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Being rude and overly dismissive of other people’s opinions will only result in them getting annoyed, and vice-versa if they are rude and dismissive of our opinions. Once started, it’s difficult to stop that downward spiral.

Try to avoid getting personal. Even if we don’t agree about the issue at hand, there’s no need to resort to putting people down to get our point across. Let’s respect their right to an opinion, too.

It’s also worth thinking about how we use social media. Just because we’re not face to face with people it doesn’t give us a right to be any less considerate towards a differing opinion, or, on the other hand, to rant at will at others. If someone’s online views annoy us, we can consider not following them, hiding the posts or blocking them.

If someone’s opinions truly rub me up the wrong way or they butt up against my values and standards, then I’d be asking myself if this is someone I want to spend time with. If it’s a casual acquaintance or colleague, then I may just prefer to metaphorically walk away and not engage in conversation with them. That’s not being cowardly or insincere. If someone is trying to force their opinions down my throat, it is unlikely they are up for a decent conversation about it.

I’ll leave the debate, banter and the chance to expand my own views with people who respect my right to an opinion as much as I respect theirs. That’s worth keeping in mind over the next week as we head into the election.

- Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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