What to Do When Someone Strongly Disagrees with You

Well, last week was quite a surreal week. For the first time, I wrote something that went viral, on “Being a Pastor in a 5-4 World.” I was caught off guard as I began receiving messages literally from all over the country from people asking if they could re-post what I’d written or from friends who were surprised to see my name on top of an article someone else they knew had shared.

With my five minutes of fame came the fact that I got skewered by people on “both sides” of the same-sex marriage argument. In back to back comments on another blog, people said it was thinking like mine that was the downfall of the Methodist Church – one of them was a strong proponent of same-sex marriage, and one of them was a strong opponent. To be perfectly honest, I was encouraged to see both comments because it let me know I had hit the target I intended to hit. Many people are uncomfortable with ambiguity, and I found that many were reading words that I hadn’t written or making inferences into my writing that I hadn’t made. I think Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” because he knew that people who tried to stand in the gap would get blasted from both sides.

Most of the comments, however, were very affirming and gracious. In what seemed like a loud symphony of one-sidedness in all forms of media, people seemed to be glad to have someone give voice to something in the middle. It’s easy to shout judgment or speak loudly with conviction, it’s much more difficult to listen first and risk the possibility that change might be necessary after receiving new information or beginning a new relationship with someone who differs in thinking from you. I think it’s a tragedy when we listen too much to the sound of our own voice or only the opinions of others that match ours.

Having said all of this, here’s what I propose you do when someone disagrees with you, even if they hammer you pretty hard:

1) Thank them. Seriously. Say, “thank you.” Disagreeing with someone takes courage, and saying thank you lets them know you appreciate their willingness to openly express an opinion to you that differs from your own. Let’s be honest, most people who disagree with you aren’t willing to disagree with you to you, it most often happens about you when you’re not there. I always prefer to have someone disagree with me to me rather than about me.

2) Offer to listen to their point of view. Again, seriously. Most of the time, when people disagree with you, what they expect back is for you to blast them because that’s the norm these days. It’s disarming when you offer to let someone else have the first word.

3) Actually listen to their point of view. Listen before speaking. Listen with empathy, not judgment. Listen to find points of agreement, not argument. Listen by keeping your mouth in the closed position. Listen deeply to the wounds and hurts and pains and struggles of others, respecting the fact that all people have struggles in their story that have led them to their opinion or point of disagreement with you.

One last thought: I can’t help but notice when I read the Gospels that Jesus was willing to engage in relationship with both the religious outcast and the religious zealot, people on opposite ends of the spectrum. He didn’t lead with judgment, he led with relationship. It was through his willingness to engage and the power of his relationship with people that the transformation of their lives began to occur. His willingness to “eat with sinners” caused a scandal on more than one occasion.

So, again, I say to “both sides” of any argument, it’s difficult to engage in relationship with someone when your first move is to elevate yourself above them in a seat of judgment. Judgment rarely leads to relationship, and without relationship, transformation is hard to come by. So, when someone strongly disagrees with you, thank them. And listen. If you hope to invite someone to listen to your point of view, your position will be much stronger with them when they feel loved by you rather than judged by you.

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13 thoughts on “What to Do When Someone Strongly Disagrees with You

  1. Amen, Travis.

    One side or the other might have thought your 5-4 post was ambiguous, but there is no ambiguity in this post.

    Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Travis, for sharing your perspective. I have learned something from both of these posts!

  3. Another great article Travis – one that I needed today. I used your “Being a Pastor in a 5-4 World” article as my newsletter article last week. Today I received a phone call from someone telling me how disappointed he was that his pastor has shared an article like that instead of taking a difinative stand. Thankfully, I listened respectfully and genuinely thanked him for sharing his feelings with me.

  4. Great piece. This is likely an entirely separate post, but I think it is also great to pursue such listening without the agenda of changing the person’s mind. If every interaction is a battle to be won or lost, we end up employing tactics that might interfere with true listening. I have come to appreciate interactions with people who disagree with me but do so with a humility that doesn’t seek to convert me to “their side.”

    • I agree. Sometimes listening for the sake of listening is what we need to do and what people need from us. My point in this was that for people who do hope to change someone’s mind, speaking without listening is often not very effective.