Our time and energy are finite resources, so when we find ourselves disagreeing with someone, we have to decide whether it’s something we care about enough to make it worth discussing it further—or whether it’s easier to simply pretend to agree and get on with our life. Or perhaps you find yourself fake-agreeing with someone because you don’t want to ruffle any feathers, even if it’s something that really bothers you. Either way, you have other options.
Why does expressing disagreement make some people uncomfortable?
Some people love a heated debate or a good argument—or, at the very least, don’t have a problem telling others that they disagree with them. Others, so-called “people pleasers,” may go above and beyond to avoid any kind of interpersonal conflict, confrontation, or disagreement, says Jolie Silva, PhD, a clinical psychologist and chief operating officer of New York Behavioral Health.
According to Silva, there are three ways of handling disagreements: Passiveness, assertiveness, and aggression. “Being passive is usually a sign that someone is avoiding disagreement, because they are ultimately avoiding an uncomfortable emotion, like anxiety or guilt, that would likely result if they had the disagreement,” she explains.
For some people, it goes beyond simply avoiding conflict: They might also be fearful of how the disagreement may impact their relationship with the other person or the way that other person perceives them, says Courtney Morgan, a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) and founder of Counseling Unconditionally, a mental health therapy practice in Louisville, Kentucky. Or, as Carl Nassar, PhD, LPC, a professional counselor based in Denver points out, some people would prefer to end the discussion as quickly as possible to avoid spending time engaging in a disagreement, opting to “go along to get along.”
But pretending to agree with someone isn’t a solution, either. Sure, we may avoid an argument in that moment, but it won’t do us any favors in the long run. “We give up a lot when we do this,” says Nassar. “We give up our voice, and the opportunity to help others grow and to grow ourselves.” Plus, as Morgan points out, it’s also important to “live in ways that align with your personal values,” and pretending to agree with someone about something that matters to you may cause future problems.
Use these phrases instead of pretending to agree with someone
Coming up with something to say in the moment can be tough—especially if you’re focused on avoiding conflict, but also don’t want to end the conversation with the other person thinking you agree with them, or having to resort to agreeing to disagree for the umpteenth time. Here are some suggestions from psychologists:
“I understand your viewpoint, but I see it another way.”
In general, Silva says that you should first validate the other person, and acknowledge that they have a right to their opinion, in order to soften the disagreement, and offer a friendly, rather than combative, tone. This statement, for example, is a direct yet validating way to communicate disagreement, which Silva says can be useful with colleagues.
“I hear you, though I have a different opinion.”
Silva suggests using this warm approach with family members or your partner.
“I can’t go along with that one.”
This would be best used in a casual setting, like a social event with people you’re not very close with, says Morgan. “It feels subtle enough to avoid an unnecessary argument, and it is direct enough to express that we do not agree on the matter,” she says.
“Your argument is valid, but I don’t agree.”
Clear and concise, Silva recommends using this response with friends, colleagues, or family members who tend to be talkative, or don’t give you an opportunity to express your own opinion.
“I am trying to see it your way, but ultimately I think differently about this situation.”
According to Silva, this communicates that you genuinely want to understand their viewpoint, but still do not agree.
“I truly appreciate and respect your opinion, but I see it differently.”
This message takes the edge off and softens the blow of your disagreement. “It may be good to use with your partner, or even supervisor at work,” Silva says.
“That’s a really unique perspective. I haven’t thought of it like that before.”
It’s entirely possible that this is the first time you’ve considered that perspective, and aren’t yet ready to commit to agreeing or disagreeing with it, Morgan says.
The key to politely disagreeing with someone using these, or other similar phrases, is to approach the conversation with open-mindedness, without veering into accusatory or defensive territory. And if you genuinely don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing the topic, communicate this to the person in a respectful way, and do your best to move on.
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