Modern Manners: How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

Mar 9 2018

by Laura Mixon Camacho

The Southern Coterie blog: "Disagree Without Being Disagreeable" by Laura Mixon-Camacho (photo: Kelli Boyd Photography for #tsctravels)
When faced with negative conversations, accusations and allegations, first, find your happy place (like this tranquil moment in Savannah). Then follow the three tips for disagreeing politely below. (photo: Kelli Boyd Photography for #thesouthernctravels)

You might think those of us who consider ourselves “smarter than average” are more balanced and open minded when it comes to weighing fresh evidence on an issue. That happens to be incorrect.

Quick. When was the last time you changed your mind on some major life issue? (Nail polish color or what to wear doesn’t count.)

Was it because someone on social media said you were an idiot for disagreeing with him? Has any hateful Facebook post convinced you that you were actually in the wrong? Or when a celebrity used her platform to promote an opinion did you say to yourself, “Well…if an actress says so, it must be true”?

I don’t think so.

We don’t change our minds very often. Rarely does that happen.

Studies on the Confirmation Bias show that more intelligent, analytical thinkers are even more prone to distort any presented evidence to support their existing opinions than those less gifted or analytical.

In short, smarter people will work harder not to be wrong.

If I were to act more like my Idealized Self, I might never get bothered by negative conversations, accusations and allegations. I fantasize about being that unflappable woman who just smiles and prays for everyone. Instead, I act like Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies, for those wise enough to know that reference.

In case anyone else struggles with this, here are three ways to positively deal with those who strongly and loudly state obviously misguided positions and opinions.

Assume positive intent.

While there are times this is not a good idea, for example if a stranger invites you to take a ride in his car, most of the time it works well to assume positive intent.

You never truly know what people have gone through that makes them think the way they do.

Look for common ground and talk about that.

This is what’s missing from so many conversations. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but looking for common ground instead of focusing on what divides us can go a long way to finding solutions.

Safe bets for common ground include love of family and pets, concerns for health and the desire to make our communities better.

Agree to disagree…and be the light.

If the person you’re talking to does not want to agree to disagree, then you may be talking to someone genetically programmed to always be right. In other words, someone in my extended family.

Most attempts to change a person’s mind simply strengthen their resolve not to be changed. You may want to ask, why does this person’s stance (or statement) bother me so much? It’s far more productive to work in your own garden.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Laura Mixon Camacho View More Blog Posts from this Author

Laura Mixon Camacho, PhD, is obsessed with communication as a tool for building bridges and careers. She believes all conversations should be carried out with style and imagination. And public speaking is just a special sort of conversation. Laura creates quirky communication workshops and she does private one-to-one coaching. She is the go-to coach if you want to improve your communication skills to move your business or career forward with more confidence, more impact and less stress. Read more at

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