Have we Lost the Art of Agreeing to Disagree

Have we Lost the Art of Agreeing to Disagree


With 2017 sprinting to a close and the festive season rapidly upon us, I was reflecting on the year that’s almost over. We’ve seen some huge changes both here and abroad, some really positive and some just scary. Some of the good stuff happened right here at home, like the marriage equality YES vote and passing of the supporting legislation. Most of us could have told Uncle Mal he didn’t need to spend our ‘hard-earned’ on a plebiscite to get there, but now at least it’s official.

One of the global stories that’s been impossible to ignore of course is North Korea’s missile testing and the escalating war of words between North Korea and other world leaders, including our own. It makes me think back to an interview with Dr. Keith Suter, Foreign Affairs Editor for Chanel 7 on this subject some months ago now. He said he firmly believes we’ve lost the art of agreeing to disagree, and that we’ve become increasingly combative as a society, citing a recent study from here at home where at least 20% of Australians said it was OK to use violence if there was a disagreement.

One of the other guests blamed our tribal culture, saying it was human nature – we’re a tribal people and we grow up with the strong beliefs and paradigms of our tribe. He said that when we encounter another tribe with very different paradigms, we cannot reconcile the two, it is not in our nature.

Yes, our beliefs are built in very early on in life, and are dependent on the type of upbringing we have, our education and the diversity of our experiences. But strongly held beliefs and paradigms shouldn’t stop us from practicing some open-mindedness. It’s not just about listening to the views of others but really seeking to understand. If we enter into all of our interactions and conversations with a true intent to actually understand and take on board a different opinion, then we might just learn something new and perhaps broaden our thinking. In doing so we’ve taken the time to, as the saying goes, ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. This doesn’t mean we’ve had to change our opinions, just that we’ve demonstrated our humanity, and our emotional intelligence.

We practice this in the workplace every day, or at least we should be. Part of any positive organisational culture and any high-functioning team is conflict and effective resolution of that conflict, sometimes through agreeing to disagree. Conflict is handled differently in different cultures and we all see it differently as individuals. Depending on our personal style, some of us relish a good argument, whilst others would prefer to become invisible or be sucked into the earth around us rather than engage in any form of conflict. Regardless of how we feel about it, most of us have the skills to manage it effectively, more often than not we just need to acknowledge the emotion for what it is and get on with it. Easier said than done when we’re dealing with strongly held beliefs or matters close to the heart, but certainly not impossible.

Let’s hear it for agreeing to disagree, for open-mindedness and for showing our humanity this festive season.

Fiona Stockwell