How do you respond when someone disagrees with you? Do you have intellectual curiosity? Are you open to other perspectives and ideas? Are you willing to have your point of view and assumptions challenged? Do you engage in respectful discussion and debate about issues?
Wise people aren’t afraid of different opinions and perspectives. They welcome diversity of thought. They embrace disagreement, and they respond with healthy discussion, discourse, and debate. They understand the value of creative abrasion.
I love that phrase: Creative Abrasion. Another way to describe it is “productive tension.” It reminds me of the Proverb that says, “Iron sharpens iron.”
We need disagreement because it helps us think. Disagreement has the threefold benefit of exposing when our thinking is off-track, validating when our thinking is on-target, and expanding our perspective by introducing new ideas we had not previously considered. It is an opportunity to engage and think collaboratively.
Here are six practical steps for productive disagreement:
- Be intellectually curious
Intellectual curiosity refers to an individual’s commitment and drive to learn — not just about a particular subject, but about a wide variety of topics and ideas. Intellectually curious people are genuinely interested in new and different ideas, and they do not want to get stuck in a box of narrow and limited thinking. When someone disagrees with you… don’t be furious, be curious!
- Be humble
No one person or group has a monopoly on the truth or the best ideas. And it is almost certain there are things you believe that are simply not true, and there are things you don’t know that you need to know. Embrace creative abrasion and be willing to have your ideas challenged and pressure tested.
- Be respectful
Just because someone disagrees with you, or disagrees with a popular and prevailing idea, doesn’t mean they are a bad person. It simply means they have a different perspective. Unfortunately, some use disagreement as an excuse to malign and villainize people with opposing views. When you talk with people who have a different view than you, make it a conversation, not a confrontation. Engage respectfully and listen carefully.
- Do not equate opinion with credibility
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but everyone is not entitled to credibility. Credibility must be earned by respectfully demonstrating the truthfulness of your perspective or idea. By all means have an opinion, but have the humility to acknowledge when it is just that… an opinion.
- Do not equate feelings with facts
A strong emotion about something doesn’t make it true. Some folks operate with false-confidence because they read something on the internet or hear something in the news that affirms their feelings and confirms their opinion. They don’t do their homework to determine the accuracy of the statement; they simply believe it because it aligns with their feelings. This is a thinking trap called confirmation bias, and it is quite prevalent in today’s culture. Be careful you don’t fall into this trap.
- Be courageous
Disagreement, when done right, is a catalyst key to growth, change, and transformation. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. All of the steps I have listed take courage. It is not easy to be intellectually curious, humble, and respectful when someone disagrees with you. It is not easy to have your ideas and opinions challenged. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking your opinion gives you credibility, especially when strong emotion is involved. It is easy to get frustrated and angry at people who express a perspective that is different from yours.
We need to change the way we think about disagreements so we can invite and encourage creative abrasion. Instead of avoiding or villainizing people who have a different perspective, we need to engage with them. That is how we will capitalize on the benefits of healthy, productive disagreement.
Do the work.