People discussing
In order to have a constructive disagreement, you need to listen actively, avoid blame, and help in creating a safe space for everyone to share their ideas. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Disagreements are like mosquitos at a picnic – unwelcome, itchy, and guaranteed to crash the party. From holiday film showdowns with family to brainstorming sessions at work that go from ‘genius!’ to ‘yeah, that's not happening,’ clashing viewpoints are a fact of life. Sometimes, they leave us feeling hurt and frustrated.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

Yet, what if disagreements could be something…dare we say positive? They can be transformed from fiery battles into collaborative spaces where clashing ideas forge stronger solutions. Well, we spoke to a few wellness experts and psychologists, who provide ways to disagree with someone in a way that leads to constructive outcomes.

What is a constructive disagreement?

Some people, like Dubai entrepreneur Sneha Vaswani, avoid arguments altogether, while others, like Dubai-based salesman Ronald Morris, dig in their heels. However, a constructive disagreement isn't about proving you're right and the other person is wrong, explains Freddie Pullam, a Dubai-based British corporate wellness expert. It's about finding that sweet spot, that magical middle ground where everyone feels heard and a solution emerges.

Pullam believes disagreements can be transformed into collaborative spaces. As he says, “A constructive disagreement is where people express different views but reach a positive outcome. It's about listening actively, avoiding blame, and creating a safe space for everyone to share their ideas.”

What's the difference? Audrey Hammett, a Dubai-based business mentor, illustrates it:

Destructive disagreement: Two colleagues clash over a marketing campaign. One yells, calls ideas 'stupid', and they storm off with no plan. Deadline missed; boss is unhappy. No winners!

Constructive disagreement: The same colleagues discuss concerns, brainstorm, and find a compromise that incorporates both ideas. They leave feeling heard and with a plan they both support.

‘Don’t take it personally’

Woman listening
We naturally favour those who agree with us. It's like a ‘friend filter’ - we see people who share our views more positively across the board. This ‘halo effect’ makes us perceive them as better listeners, more agreeable, even funnier. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Imagine this: You're in a brainstorming session, brimming with ideas for a new marketing campaign. You hesitantly suggest a slightly different approach, but your colleague doesn’t agree. They scoff. Suddenly, the room feels heavy. You question your own judgment, and any other ideas get lodged firmly in your throat. Sounds familiar?

This is the danger of taking disagreements personally. We all have that colleague (or maybe we've all been that colleague!), where any differing opinion feels like an attack on their brilliance. Take Polly Michaels, an American Dubai-based public relations professional, for example. She remembers a colleague who became defensive whenever someone disagreed with her. People became hesitant to even offer constructive criticism. "We'd point out a small issue," Michaels recalls, "And she would snap back, accusing us of nitpicking. It created such a tense and stifling atmosphere.”

The first thing to know about disagreements, is that it shouldn't kill your creativity. Don't take it so personally...

- Freddie Pullam, corporate wellness expert

Here's the thing: Disagreements don't have to be a creativity killer. You don’t have to take it so personally, as Pullam says. Your creativity or diligence isn’t in question here, and you can approach this conversation with care and respect. It goes two ways: The other party can also put their point across in a respectful manner.

So, how do you have a constructive disagreement?

By listening carefully, you can truly understand the other person's reasoning, concerns, and underlying needs. This allows you to see the issue from a different angle and potentially find common ground. Image Credit:

Listen clearly, first

Be the human equivalent of a sponge, soaking up the other person's perspective.

A new US-based study in the academic journal Psychological Science sheds some light at how we interpret disagreements. Turns out, many people mistakenly think someone who disagrees with them simply wasn't listening.

The researchers, explain it this way: We naturally favour those who agree with us. It's like a ‘friend filter’ - we see people who share our views more positively across the board. This ‘halo effect’ makes us perceive them as better listeners, more agreeable, even funnier.

However, here's the kicker. Our own biases play a role too. We tend to believe our perspective is the only ‘true’ one, referred to as naïve realism. This can lead to misinterpretations.

So, the key takeaway for both speakers and listeners? Feeling heard matters. The study found that speakers felt listened to when the listener focused on them, showed understanding, and expressed genuine interest, even if they disagreed. Bottom line: Active listening goes a long way, even in disagreements.

Hammett elaborates further, “In a disagreement, both sides likely have valid points. By listening carefully, you can truly understand the other person's reasoning, concerns, and underlying needs. This allows you to see the issue from a different angle and potentially find common ground.” Moreover, when you listen closely, you can pick up on clues about what the other person might be open to. This allows you to brainstorm solutions that address both of your concerns, she adds.

“It also shows the other person that you value their opinion and are genuinely interested in understanding them. This fosters trust and respect, which are crucial for a productive and positive discussion,” says Hammett. Acknowledge their points with phrases like ‘That's an interesting perspective,’ or ‘I understand where you're coming from'.

Use 'I' statements

Ditch the finger-pointing and own your feelings. Instead of muttering dubiously, ‘You always want to take the risky route’, instead try, ‘I feel more comfortable with a proven approach because…’

Lakshmi Narayan, a Dubai-based stress specialist explains why ‘I’ statements are so effective. “They usually are a powerful tool for shifting the focus to your feelings and perspective. They allow you to express your concerns without attacking the other person,” she says. When you say ‘I feel uncomfortable...’ instead of ‘you always...’ you invite the other person to understand your point of view. It opens the door for them to see the situation from your perspective. By focusing on your feelings, the other person is less likely to feel attacked and more likely to listen receptively. It creates a safe space for open communication.

Forget persuasion, embrace curiosity

Science backs it up: A 2022 US-based study published in Psychological Science, showed that most people prefer conversation partners who want to learn from them, not just persuade them. This means people wish for discussions where their viewpoints are genuinely considered, even in disagreements, according to researchers.

So, next time you're locked in a disagreement, ditch the ‘winning’ mentality, explains Pullam. Instead, be curious. Approach the conversation with a genuine interest in understanding the other person's perspective. Ask open-ended questions, listen actively, and try to see things from their angle.

Set clear intentions and expectations before a conversation

People annoyed
The key is to set clear intentions upfront. Knowing the common goal helps everyone communicate more effectively Image Credit: Shutterstock

Disagreements can often feel like hitting a brick wall. Before you know it, you're locked in a battle of opinions, defensive thoughts cloud your judgment, and the other person seems like an impossible fortress to break through. However, there’s a better away.

The key is setting clear intentions upfront. As Narayan explains, “Are you seeking emotional support, brainstorming solutions, or something else entirely? Knowing the common goal helps everyone communicate more effectively.”

Here are some tips for turning disagreements into growth opportunities:

Clarify your goals: Before diving in, take a moment to establish what you both hope to achieve.

Acknowledge differences: Recognise that you might have different perspectives, and express genuine interest in understanding the other person's viewpoint.

Focus on learning: Approach the conversation with an open mind, aiming to learn from each other rather than ‘win’ an argument.

As Hammett reminds, “Effective communication takes practice, but these strategies can help you navigate disagreements with grace and turn them into positive experiences for everyone involved. Remember, communication is a two-way street – by actively listening and showing respect, you can pave the way for a more productive and ultimately, positive discussion.”