Sunday, April 13, 2008

Charitable Disagreements

Over a week ago, we discussed how effective leaders should encourage or at least make room for disagreement as part of the decision making process. But, what about being on the other end? If you should disagree with a decision or corporate direction, how should you register your disagreement? What, if any, are the rules of engagement?

Before jumping into how to disagree constructively, I'd like to say that it isn't necessarily virtuous or loving to simply "tow the line" when you're not in agreement. If someone is possibly making a grave mistake, choosing not to advise or warn them because we'd rather "keep the peace" is not loving. It could reveal what the Bible calls the "fear of man" which is a sinful response and a topic for another post altogether.

How do you agreeably disagree? Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind -

1. Disagree Charitably. Remember the adage pertaining to Christian disputes (attributed to Augustine) : "in essentials - unity; in non-essentials - liberty; in all things - charity". When we're in the midst of disagreement and eager to make our point, it's easy to forget to treat each other with love and kindness. I know that I can often become impatient or intolerant. I find reading 1 Corinthians 13 is a helpful antidote for my uncharitable disposition.

2. Disagree Humbly. As I've reminded my children (and myself) from time to time - we were wrong on the most important issue in human history. We were born into rebellion against God - we were on the wrong side. And on the wrong side we would have stayed except for the mercy of God. With that in view, perhaps we should enter into disputes at least aware of the possibility we might be wrong. It isn't sinful to be confident about your position. Just be aware that you're not always right and might not be right this time. Here's the good news - God gives grace to the humble.

3. Disagree on the Issue, Not with the Person. If you're disagreeing with a decision - keep the conversation on the issue. Resist the temptation to make it personal. Don't be drawn into making comments like "you're lowering the morale in the office" but rather "this decision is leading to lower morale".

4. Learn to Listen. When we're disagreeing, we're eager to make our point and we fail to listen to the other side. The Book of Proverbs is replete with passages on how the wise listen but fools don't.

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15

5. Disagree Directly. Simply say what you mean. Do it gently, kindly and certainly lovingly but be direct. Sometimes I see individuals using humor to hint at a problem or insinuating a problem but yet not speaking plainly. This practice lacks honesty, is disingenuous and can lead to more conflicts. Speak openly...just do it with love (#1) and humbly (#2).

6. Be Inclusive and Work on the Issue Together. It's natural to take opposing, adversarial positions. However, at times it's possible that you can come to the problem in a fresh way and work on it together. If it seems difficult to imagine how you could get to that point, I'd suggest starting by using inclusive language - using "we"/"our"/"us" instead of "I"/"you"/"my"/"your".

I'm sure that there's more to be said on this topic but this will do for now.

Do you have additional thoughts or advice on how to disagree constructively? Please share them with us.


Real Live Preacher said...

Very nice thoughts. I'm quite sensitive to body language and subtle kinds of communication. I've watched people disagree many times. There seems to be a group of people who word their disagreements in such ways as to maximize the conflict possibilities. Someone says, "I like the movie." They say, "Really, I hated it. I thought it was ridiculously infantile."


I don't know what to do with people like that. I don't know if they are just clueless or if they really are trying to hurt the person.

Vince Hinders said...

Excellent post! One thought, when disagreeing humbly (your point #2), take the next step and ask for input from the person you're disagreeing with about what you've said, and make it easy for them to ask you questions. This communicates both humility and unity.

L.L. Barkat said...

I thought the point about humor was interesting. Sometimes humor can be a form of warming up to a subject, but I guess sometimes we never get to the point, as you say!

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

just letting you know that your posts over the past months have helped to prepare my heart for what I must face in the next year. I was notified yesterday by my chairwoman that I was being given a "terminal" contract this year rather than a regular one due to my lack of grant funding - but, if I received grant funding during the year, she and the dean would be happy to recend the terminal language of the contract. That's a death knell.

So thanks - you've given me a lot to think through and even in this post, a way to prepare for my meeting with the dean (scheduled before my chair called me in unexpectedly) tomorrow.

By the way, as far as disagreements - I think that grace provides a salve to all situations of disagreement. Much can be accomplished by giving the benefit of the doubt and restating, with grace, what you though you heard someone say.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts here. Yes, we've all encountered people who express themselves in ways that can be tempting to those around them.

I've been known to say things without considering how it might impact others. You asked what to do with people like that - I would start by inquiring. For instance, in your example, you might say "You have strong opinions! Why do you think that?"....or sometimes it's wiser just to say nothing.

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks - you're right. We can take the next step to inquire and ask for input.

I think your point about unity is a good one. It could stand as a separate point altogether. As far as possible, we should disagree while preserving unity. It's biblical

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks - you're right. We can take the next step to inquire and ask for input.

I think your point about unity is a good one. It could stand as a separate point altogether. As far as possible, we should disagree while preserving unity. It's biblical

Every Square Inch said...


The reason I made the point about humor is that I've found that sometimes people really have an issue that bothers them but they lack the courage to speak honestly.

Humor becomes a foil and not a very good one because it can communicate resentment without getting to the heart of the matter.


Thanks for the encouragement. I'm sorry to hear about your "terminal contract". May God help you in your discussions with the dean.

To your point about makes me consider that the grace of God informs us that we have received kindness from Him when we deserve wrath...may we extend that to others we encounter.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Yes, that is exactly what I meant! If we think in terms of giving what we have already received, it makes us look at situations of conflict far differently than we might otherwise.

As to the dean - more of the same - go back to the lab, get more preliminary data and more publications so you can get more grants and bring in more money to the university. It was supposed to be a curriculum meeting - and I'd promised others I would go and present a particular curricular need to him - so I did. The other was his choice to discuss.

But - as you write in your most recent quote - this is all upheld by God's hand and therefore good, no matter how it feels. God is gracious - I have this year to try to figure out what I want to be when I grow up (kind of funny to write at 54.5 yo) and to pursue it - and that is a luxury most people do not have!

Ted M. Gossard said...

I've got to come to your blog more often. This is a great post. So very true. If we worked at this, it would help so much. And should become a part of who we're becoming in Jesus. Yet in this life, we have to keep growing in grace and working and praying towards it.

I posted today on L.L.'s visit, and know you'd be interested.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I'm afraid I've seen humor done in that way. Not helpful. Can be a nervous or learned coverup for resentment, though I think resentment is often not hard to see or think one might be seeing when such happens.

Every Square Inch said...


Keep trusting God as you have - God will reward your faith toward Him. It'll work out for your good.


Always good to hear from you. I'll stop by to read your post on LL's visit.

Tony Rossell said...

As I read your list, one thing jumped out at me, TIME. The workplace can move very fast, so finding the time to do this is the biggest challenge. Tony

Every Square Inch said...


You're right - time is limited, people are moving fast, disagreements happen at warp speed, it seems.

Yet, I think to do this is not so much a matter of time it is the consistent practice of the heart - to not judge prematurely, to be more direct but humble, to try to be inclusive...