Oct 142014 9 Responses

The Number One Rule of Disagreement

Every Sunday I speak on two different occasions for around 40 minutes. Each week I write five posts of about 750 words. Everyday I lead a non-profit organization made up of hundreds of volunteers.

Needless to say, there are occasions in which people disagree with me.

Yet I’ve noticed something about these disagreements. Some are effective critiques which cause me to evaluate my own opinion and often strengthen my relationship with a person even if we don’t end up with the same ideas. Others are damaging events which cause me to more firmly believe my thoughts and distance myself from the person raising the issue.

There is only one difference between the two. (See: The Ends Don’t Justify the Mean)

People who are effective at offering useful critiques refuse to make an issue personal.

The number one rule of disagreement is do not make it personal.

It sounds like an obvious rule, but it is one which is very difficult to follow.

No matter our background or experience, human tendency is to state a critique or differing opinion and then to do everything in our power to prove our point—to win the argument.

The desire to defeat the other person rather than to understand the other person makes it very tempting to allow an opinion to define the whole person. Instead of discussing an issue, we question their mind, heart, and soul. Surely if they do not think like what we think, something must be wrong with them.

Of course this viewpoint is wrong on two levels: (See: Five Types of Social Media Jerks)

1. We always assume there is a clear right or wrong about a specific issue. We assume this even though issues are rarely black and white. Even when most of the world agrees on an issue like our need to stop terrorism, no one is really sure how to do so and many different plans are offered as possible solutions. While a few issues are clearly right or wrong, many are not.

2. We always assume we are right. We assume this even though every aspect of our lives reveal that we are often wrong about many things. It’s sadly humorous when a person who can’t balance his own family budget is frustrated because politicians struggle with the complexities of international finance.

Issues are rarely black and white and even when they are, we are rarely right.

We cannot deny disagreements. We can’t hide from them or ignore them. We must be able to openly communicate with others including freely expressing disagreeing viewpoints. (See: Gossip Is More Damaging Than Adultery)

Yet there is one basic rule which nearly every person violates when voicing dissent. The number one rule of disagreement is do not make it personal.

It is a common human tendency when voicing dissent to take a disagreement in idea or belief and make into a discussion of which person is better. This habit has disastrous consequences. It causes:

  • marriages to end
  • communities to languish
  • churches to split
  • friendships to fracture
  • businesses to die

Our inability to discuss the actual issue and our necessity to win an argument is childish, dishonest, and deeply painful to ourselves and others.

Ironically, the less we are certain about our opinion, the more likely we are to be vicious against those with whom we disagree. (See: A Sign of Doubt)

In our attempt to win arguments, we often raise an issue, but then deflect from the actual disagreement and pile on other issues in hopes of showing how wrong the other person is.And if we can’t pile on other issues, we attack the person’s character or heart.


  • Is the President wrong or is he evil?
  • Did the referee miss a call or did he try to steal the game?
  • Does the other person have a different perspective than you or are they stupid?

Why can’t we just disagree? Why do we have to make the issue personal? Why do we have to question a person’s character, intent, patriotism, and faith just because we see an issue differently?

We don’t and we shouldn’t.

Knowing the human temptation toward making disagreements personal, we should approach them in a different way:

We should expect them more often. The more aware we are of our own imperfections, the more we should expect others to disagree with our thoughts and viewpoints. We all have a variety of opinions so of course disagreements will arise. If you often have disagreements with the people you love the most (your family) why should it surprise you when other people disagree with your opinion or idea? (See: Don’t Seek Conflict, But Do Embrace It)

We should approach them more carefully. Because of the human tendency to make issues personal, we should be very cognizant of that temptation when we approach a confrontation and very careful about the words we choose when dealing with an issue.

We should conclude them more humbly. Even if we conclude a disagreement with still disagreeing, we should conclude the discussion in a humble way. I could be wrong, you could be wrong, we both could be right, we both could be wrong, etc. And even if you are wrong on this issue, I know I’m wrong on other issues, so I should never allow you being wrong about one issue to define my whole perception of who you are as a person. (See: Use Hard Words Not Harsh Words)

When we do these three things, we will be more likely to stay on topic and refuse the temptation of making things personal.

Feel free to disagree, just don’t question my intelligence, compassion, or faith as you do so.

9 Responses to The Number One Rule of Disagreement
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