“I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree” is a phrase commonly heard when an argument reaches impasse. It’s certainly better than holding grudges, or dragging out a fight indefinitely. But is “agreeing to disagree” a legitimate acknowledgment of legitimate differences of opinion? Or is it a cop-out to avoid the work of seeking a true win-win situation?
Every difference of opinion has to be settled on its own merits, and it often does happen that the best thing to do is drop the subject in a spirit of mutual respect. However, agreeing to disagree may do more harm than good if:
For some people, particularly authority figures, “Let’s agree to disagree” is code language for “The subject is closed. You don’t have to believe what I say, but you have to do what I say.” Those on the receiving end understandably resent this, especially if they feel they haven’t been given a fair hearing.
This approach is common with parents who resent their children’s independent thinking. Be sure you’ve fully considered their point of view before “agreeing to disagree.”
If any of the following apply, it’s asking for trouble to give each side implicit permission to do things his or her way:
Where disagreement is really harsh, an outside arbitrator may be necessary. If you find yourself in this position (even if just to decide which of your children really went first last time), don’t be so eager to “get this settled” that either party feels cheated out of an objective hearing.
The principle of “not settling it before it’s settled” applies equally to arbitrators and participants. Sometimes there’s no obvious danger of power plays or repercussions, yet it’s still a bad idea to say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Are you harboring any secret condescension toward the other party? Do you want to avoid thinking about the larger issues? Is your pride determined not to modify your opinion, no matter what? In that case, even if the immediate disagreement has no repercussions, you’re cheating yourself out of a chance to grow and develop.
Disagreements are inevitable, and some aren’t worth making a big deal over. But they should never be allowed to interfere with the greater good of nurturing mutual respect.