Can We Really Agree to Disagree_ - Blog Top Image

Can We Really Agree to Disagree?

Spoiler alert: yes.

There have been a number of things going on in our society and in our various workplaces recently that are challenging some pretty foundational assumptions we have about ourselves and other people. 

I’ve heard people around me recently express a desire to remain unaware of where someone else stands on a particular topic or perspective, rooted in the understanding that ”It’s easier to love you or care for you or respect you if I don’t have to disagree with you.”  While this may temporarily prevent discord, in the long run, it doesn’t promote peace.

Group of happy young  business people in a meeting at officeWhat if, instead of closing off our minds to someone else’s perspective, we invoke curiosity and we approach them with a desire to understand?

Multiple studies show that we each perceive things a little bit differently. Twelve eyewitnesses to the same incident will have a dozen different accountings of the event.  Part of that is because each of the twelve onlookers has a slightly different vantage point. Each person views the event from where they stand, not from where the person next to them stands. To get the full picture of what actually happened, we would need input from all twelve.  

We would need to ask each of them, “what did you see from where you were standing?”

We wouldn’t say “Well you were standing to my left, so you must be wrong; your perspective is irrelevant” or, “You were standing 6 inches to my right, so I don’t want to hear from you, I’ll just assume you saw what I saw.”  Would we?

Pushing the illustration a little further, each person’s observations are colored by their own lens on the world. 

Kid playing around with a camera at the parkThe lens through which we see the things around us takes its hue from our life experiences.  And my life experiences are not like yours. Yours are not like his.  His are not like hers.  Even within the bounds of family, our life experiences are not identical, and our perspectives will not perfectly align.  

Take my brother, my sister, and myself for example. As kids, we had the same parents and were raised simultaneously in the same household. Yet we have three different paces with which we engage with the world around us;

our decisions are informed by different outlooks; our actions are driven by different thought processes; our interactions with other human beings are different. Because we are different. 

I would not have the same conversation with my brother that I have with my sister. My parents would not have the same conversation with my sister as they would with me.  We are different.  

But does that make us, anyone of us, less valuable? Less lovable?  Most certainly not!

Happy kid exploring nature with magnifying glassWhen someone’s perspective doesn’t match our own, we should seek to understand it. Perhaps they are coming from a vantage point that can help us sharpen our own view of the world. Perhaps they have had a life experience that we’ve not had, and that we could learn from. Perhaps we could understand them and value them even more as a person if we knew why they had a particular perspective. And, vice versa, perhaps they could understand and value us if they knew why we had a particular perspective.

We shouldn’t assume we all agree. We shouldn’t close ourselves off from those who disagree or devalue them or ruin perfectly good relationships just because we see things differently. 

We should seek to understand. And, if our perspectives are different, we should try out the phrase, “let’s agree to disagree.” At its core, it means “lets still value each other. Let’s acknowledge that you matter, and you have your view. And I matter, and I have my view. And we matter more than this disagreement. 

We can disagree on a topic, and still agree about many other things. We can have different perspectives, and still be equally valuable as human beings. We can have experienced life differently, and still both have lived!

Can we agree to disagree?  Yes. But we have to work at it. Try these prompts:

  1. Think of someone you value but do not always see eye to eye with.
  2. List three reasons you value that person. Share those reasons with them.
  3. Find one thing on which you disagree and ask them their perspective and how they came to it.
  4. Close your mouth. And listen–really listen–for understanding, as opposed to listening for why or how they’re “wrong.” 
  5. Thank them for their time and insights.
  6. Continue to value them. And agree to disagree whenever you need to!

It’s become tempting to write each other off because of a certain viewpoint. And with our increased access to “unfriend” or “unfollow” buttons, it’s become even easier to do so. But that dialogue, that disagreement, can be a valuable learning tool if we’re willing to embrace that curiosity, if we’re willing to find out why

Topics: Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


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