On Disagreement

Why do we avoid disagreement? Why do we spend so much time, both psychologically, emotionally, and even physically trying to avoid having a disagreement with another human being?

… oh, well, it’s because it’s just… generally unpleasant… right?

But, we’re missing a huge opportunity by looking at it that way, especially since there are a billion reasons why disagreement is not just a healthy and important part of our lives but also because disagreement unlocks a near-unlimited amount of future-upside, for both parties!

Picture this: Instead of our default behavior of running away from any disagreement we, instead, default to running towards it!

When two folks find themselves in disagreement they have an opportunity to learn something new based on new information. Now, armed and equipped with more relevant data, each person can dramatically improve their decision making as well as the quality of the eventual outcome(s).

In addition, by dialoguing through the disagreement, they are also systematically reducing cognitive and psychological bias(es) that exist in both parties. Reducing ignorance is a natural consequence of successful navigating a disagreement and everyone gets “smarter” as a result.

Lastly, it’s unlikely that both parties are going to be equally equipped with the same amount of experience, reasoning, heuristics, and general wisdom around the subject matter. This doesn’t mean that one is lesser-than and one is more-than — rather, it’s a moment for both parties to be intellectually honest about what’s true and realizing that both can come out “on top” instead of a more classic zero-sum approach.

This isn’t about proving who’s smarter or more experienced and if it devolves toward that then it can be difficult to recover (in the moment).

Getting things started.

Given all of these obvious and natural upsides and advantages, you’d think that people would be much more willing to naturally engage with one another in exciting and enthusiastic disagreements!

The problem is that the encounters are usually handled so poorly that few people have any real empirical data that showcases any other outcause other than hurt feelings and resentment.

That’s because, as I’ve mentioned, most folks see a winner and loser scenario rather than opportunities for growth and improvement. If we view every encounter in this way we’ll never progress, in any direction.

How do we become better at disagreeing with one another? I think the solution is simply one of practice. Finding safe places to practice small and light disagreements is helpful and trusted conversation partners is good too — maybe even your spouse or good friend can willingly engage with you in some light, intentional bickering.

Also, remember that agreeing to disagree is, for all intents and purposes, a collective sign by both parties that you’ve agreed to treat each other with mutual disrespect and contempt — rational thinking (and a clear head) will, again, remind folks that reaching an agreement is a value-adding (moral) imperative.

Otherwise, you’ve intentionally wasted each other’s time and nothing is more disrespectful than that. Nobody has time for that.

Unsurprising is the fact that the more you practice the more you become better at facilitating a disagreement towards a mutually-helpful outcome and you’ll be seen as a more useful and valuable resource over time.

It’s also unsurprising that those who spend more of their time hiding their positions and weaknesses (instead of being more comfortable with being publicly wrong) are often seen as intellectually inferior anyway.

Ironic, paradoxical, but true: The more you practice being wrong in front of others the more they respect you as a result.

Imagine that.