Five Ways to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

“Whoever writes this stuff is very ignorant of the Bible and its meaning. . .”

“Someone who denies Christ and isn’t very educated wrote this *#%.” 

These are two comments I received lately in response to one of my articles, two of a long string of responses. Some were positive and kind. Others respectfully disagreed with a point or two I made. And others were rude, disrespectful, and abusive. 

The contrast got me thinking. 

We live in a country that allows its citizens to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of persecution or imprisonment. Social media, especially, gives the average person the platform to air their views on a far-reaching and even global stage. But does the freedom we enjoy give us carte blanche to say whatever we think however we want? 

I think not. 

Especially if we’re believers. God holds us to a higher standard than our civil authorities, and we answer to a higher law than that which rules our nation. 

Unless we live alone in a cave on a mountain in Tibet, we’re going to eventually encounter someone with whom we disagree. 

So how do we disagree without being disagreeable? 

Here are five ways: 

1. Examine our motives. 
Why are we disagreeing? To be contrary and stir up dissention? To demonstrate how smart we are? If so, Proverbs 16:28 has a word of warning: “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” 

If, however, we embrace a belief or perspective that differs from the person with whom we’re talking and have pure motives, we might have legitimate grounds to approach someone. 

2. Pray about the right words. 
The right words, carefully chosen, can unlock a person’s heart and open their mind to consider an alternative view point. The wrong words can cause someone to shut down or react defensively. The best hope we have to convert someone to our perspective is to speak thoughtful, intelligent words, seasoned with grace and truth. 

If we have a legitimate concern to share with another, and our motive is to educate or edify, Ephesians 4:15 gives us wise guidance: “. . . Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Speaking the truth in love requires us to approach someone with whom we disagree gently, humbly, and respectfully, with the desire to educate, not insult. 

3. Choose our timing well. 
Especially if the point of disagreement makes you angry, don’t open your mouth (or your computer) immediately. Take time to think, pray, consider the facts, and examine your motive. Many times I’ve been convinced I was right until I talked to the Lord about it. If, after time and prayer, you still feel compelled to address the issue, choose a time that allows for a thorough, unhurried talk. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19 tells us. 

4. Ask, does it really need to be said? 
Much of what we disagree about probably doesn’t need to be spoken aloud. But some of it does. How do we know? Here are a few things to consider: If you don’t speak up, will it harm the person? Does the Bible give clear biblical precedent or is it a biblically grey area? Is it a major point or a minor point, a matter of principle or a matter of preference? Is it any of your business? Proverbs 26:17 cautions, “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” 

5. Focus on the idea, not the person. 
The examples I shared at the beginning of this post are examples of attacking the person, not the idea. Name calling, defamatory statements, comments about one’s salvation, education, or personal life have no place in the discussion. Other readers who disagreed with me focused on the biblical reasons they took exception to what I’d written. This is healthy, helpful, and respectful discussion. I welcome it.

Philippians 2:3-4 gives us perhaps the greatest guideline for dealing with disagreement: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

So the next time we wonder if we should disagree with someone, we’d do well to examine our motives, pray about the right words, choose our timing well, ask if it really needs to be said, and focus on the idea, not the person. 

Then, we can successfully disagree without being disagreeable.

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