When people can't see eye to eye on something, they have the option of agreeing to disagree. Here is how to successfully agree to disagree, while gaining and keeping the other person's respect.
What does agree to disagree mean?
To agree to disagree means that both parties acknowledge that they can't reach an agreement. It means they will both continue on their way knowing that they may never reach an agreement, and each one realizes the other won't change their mind.
When to agree to disagree
Once you're at the point that you realize you and the other person are at an impasse, it's time to acknowledge that.
If you've been having the same discussion more than once but each person won't agree with the other after listening to the other person's arguments, then it's time to agree to disagree. Here are more ways that you know it's time:
- Each person interprets the same set of facts differently (example: vaccines versus no vaccines)
- The topic is something that's ideological and mission-critical to each person (example: a religion versus another religion, or versus atheism)
- Each person thinks a different priority should be the one that takes precedence, even after hearing the opposing point of view (example: privacy versus convenience with tech products)
- When there appears to be no factual basis that you can see for the other person's point of view (example: they believe in a conspiracy theory and you don't)
Situations that can't be solved by agreeing to disagree
Not every situation can be solved by agreeing to disagree. Something that demands immediate action in the here-and-now is not going to work with an "agree to disagree" approach.
For example, anything that poses an immediate health and safety risk, or anything that involves any illegal activity is not an "agree to disagree" situation. If you need to take action to keep someone safe or to prevent something illegal, then do it. You need not discuss this with anyone, just do it!
Techniques for successfully agreeing to disagree
Assuming you have a topic of controversy that you'd like to agree to disagree, here's how to do it - and how not to do it!
Firstly, do not say "Let's agree to disagree". Someone who always takes the opposite view is not going to want to agree with you on anything, even if it's agreeing to disagree!
Instead, use any of these phrases as great alternatives to "let's agree to disagree". Any of these will ensure you keep their respect:
"It looks like our different viewpoints are non-negotiable"
"It sounds like we have completely different ideas about this"
"We don't see eye to eye on this"
"We have pretty big differences on this matter"
"It looks like neither of us sees this the same way"
All of the phrases above will gain their respect because it shows that you have actually listened to that person and their arguments, you're not compromising your own viewpoint, and you are acknowledging that these differences are too big to be currently bridged.
An optional add-on that will help the two of you get along better
Even the most adverse opponent will feel positively towards you if you indicate that your differences need not sour your relationship. This is true even if you already don't get along with the other person.
Therefore to help improve your relationship - without giving up any ground on your viewpoint! - add one of these endings to the phrases given above:
... and that's OK
... but we don't have to agree on this still be friends [or ...to still get along, or ...to work together well]
For example, you could say "It looks like neither of us sees this the same way, and that's OK" or "We don't see eye to eye on this, but we don't have to agree on this to work together well"
These sentences show that you still value the relationship even though the two of you may never agree on the matter under dispute.
This tactic is well worth trying with anyone, but especially if you're dealing with someone who challenges everything you say. It stops turning the dispute into a power struggle between the two of you and instead builds a bridge, without requiring anyone to change their mind.
How to indicate if you are NOT open to discussing the idea again
If you're not open to discussing the idea again, you can add "We likely will never agree on this matter, so it's best if we keep it off the table".
How to indicate if you may be open to discussing the idea in the future
By contrast, if you want to leave the door open to one day having dialog about this in the more distant future (but not now) you can add: "It's best if we shelve the topic for now. If further down the track we find we are both up for discussing it again, that's fine by me."
How to respond to agree to disagree
If instead of you initiating it, the other person initiated the idea of agreeing to disagree, your response does not need to be complicated. A simple "OK" is all that is needed. This indicates that you support the idea that both of you simply can't come to an agreement.
If you don't want to agree to disagree - in other words, you are disagreeing with the idea that you can't agree, the ball is in your court. At this point you need to either change your own mind or for leave the door open for the other person to talk with you later. By requesting "agree to disagree", the person has already indicated they don't plan on changing their mind. So that leaves you with the options of a) agreeing to disagree, or b) changing your mind. You can't force someone to change their mind. They are free to disagree with you. You are not the thought police.
As mentioned previously, not all situations are appropriate for "agree to disagree". Any immediate health or safety issue, or something that is illegal, or anything similar is something where you should act alone without taking the time to discuss it with the other person or convince them to your point of view. For example, if you need to act to keep someone safe or to keep yourself out of illegal activity, just do it. You don't need to convince the other person first.
When to cut ties with someone
If the person is toxic to you, it may be worth cutting ties with them. If you don't want to confront them on yet another thing, just tell them you're busy if they try to contact you. If you prefer to take a more direct approach, explain exactly what behavior(s) of theirs are not working out for you and why you're walking away.
Regardless of how you do it, you should not be around someone who is being hurtful or emotionally or physically abusive to you, nor should you be around someone who does illegal things.
This is true regardless of their feelings for you, regardless of whether or not you have similar viewpoints, and regardless of whether or not you've agreed to disagree.
Why you need to be careful about canceling someone over 1 issue
If you have someone who is otherwise fine and not toxic to you, but you have an issue you've agreed to disagree on, think twice before cutting ties with them over that 1 controversy. There is no need to cancel someone because 1% of what they talk about is objectionable to you. That's all a normal part of being a human on this planet! You can walk away from the person if you don't like what they're saying, but there is no need to destroy an otherwise positive relationship over one issue you can agree to disagree on. Especially if it's a topic that you've both agreed to shelve and not talk about together.
Accept that not everyone will have all the same viewpoint as you. It would be a very boring world if we all had the same opinions on everything. You will actually disadvantage yourself if you're quick to cancel someone. This is because you'll wind up with a boring lack of diversity in the viewpoints around you.
Another area where you can harm yourself by canceling someone is that you risk being viewed as being hypocritical. This is because canceling implies that you expect the other person to support the issues that are important to you - without you ever making the effort to support other issues that may be important to them.
For example, perhaps Great-aunt Mary can't understand why anyone would be non-binary and makes disparaging comments. In that situation, educate her instead of canceling. Make it personal - if you have a non-binary friend, explain where your friend's coming from on this. You don't know where Great-aunt Mary's coming from either until you open dialog with her: perhaps Mary stood up for women's workplace rights in her 20's. For that reason she takes it personally when someone who's afab does not want to identify as female anymore.
And take the time to find out about issues she cares about too! Maybe Great-aunt Mary cares deeply about child labor in developing countries, and maybe that's something about which you share common ground.
The bottom line
Everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint. You're not obligated to agree with them! Nor are they obligated to agree with you. Now that you're armed with the techniques listed above for agreeing to disagree, you'll be able to disagree with someone while still gaining their respect. You can still have a positive relationship with the other preson without needing to find common ground on a particular issue.
Not every issue of contention is going to be suitable for an "agree to disagree" solution (for example things that pose immediate risks to health or safety, or anything illegal). The ability to recognize these situations was also covered here.
For more ways of making things go smoothly around others, you'll like these tips for socializing in a group, mistakes to avoid if you want to win an argument, and how perfectionists should deal with non-perfectionists.