Disagreements are like mosquitoes at a picnic: unwelcome, itchy, and guaranteed to ruin the party. From movie showdowns with family during the holidays to brainstorming sessions at work that go from “great!” to “yeah, that’s not happening,” clashing viewpoints are a fact of life. Sometimes they leave us hurt and frustrated.

But 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 offer ways to disagree with someone in a way that leads to constructive outcomes.

What is constructive disagreement?

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

Pullam believes that disagreements can be turned into collaborative spaces. As he says, “Constructive disagreement is where people express different opinions but achieve a positive outcome. It’s about active listening, 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:

Destructive Discord: Two coworkers clash over a marketing campaign. One yells, calls ideas “dumb,” and they storm off without a plan. Deadline missed; boss is unhappy. No winners!

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

“Don’t take it personally”

We naturally prefer people 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 see them as better listeners, more compliant, even funnier.

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Imagine this: You’re in a brainstorming session, brimming with ideas for a new marketing campaign. You tentatively propose a slightly different approach, but your colleague disagrees. They scoff. Suddenly, the room feels heavy. You question your own judgment, and all other ideas get stuck in your throat. Sound familiar?

This is the danger of taking disagreements personally. We all have that colleague (or perhaps we’ve all been one!) to whom any dissenting opinion feels like an attack on their genius. Take Polly Michaels, an American public relations professional based in Dubai. She remembers a colleague who became defensive when someone disagreed with her. People were reluctant to offer even constructive criticism. “We’d point out some minor issue,” Michaels recalls, “and she’d snap back and accuse us of nitpicking. It created such a tense, suffocating atmosphere.”

The first thing you need to know about disagreements is that they shouldn’t kill your creativity. Don’t take it so personally…

– Freddie Pullam, Corporate Wellbeing Expert

The point is, disagreements don’t have to be a creativity killer. You don’t have to take it so personally, as Pullam says. Your creativity or your diligence is not at issue here, and you can approach this conversation with care and respect. It works both ways: the other party can also get their point across in a respectful way.

How can you constructively deviate from a difference of opinion?

By listening carefully, you can truly understand the other person’s reasoning, concerns, and underlying needs. This allows you to look at the problem from a different angle and potentially find common ground.

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Be the human sponge that absorbs the other person’s perspective.

A new American study in the scientific journal Psychological Science sheds some light on how we interpret disagreements. It turns out that many people mistakenly think that someone who disagrees with them simply wasn’t listening.

The researchers explain it this way: We naturally prefer people 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 see them as better listeners, more compliant, even funnier.

But here’s the rub. Our own biases also play a role. We tend to believe that our perspective is the only “true” one, which is called naive realism. This can lead to misinterpretations.

So, the key message for both speakers and listeners? Feeling heard is important. The research found that speakers felt heard when the listener focused on them, showed understanding, and expressed genuine interest, even when they disagreed. In short: Active listening helps a lot, even when there are disagreements.

Hammett explains further, “In a disagreement, both parties likely have valid points. By listening carefully, you can really understand the other person’s reasoning, concerns, and underlying needs. This allows you to look at the problem from a different angle and potentially find common ground.” Additionally, when you listen carefully, you can pick up on clues about what the other person might be open to. This allows you to brainstorm solutions that address both concerns, she adds.

“It also shows the other person that you value their opinion and are genuinely interested in understanding them. This builds trust and respect, which is 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

Stop pointing fingers and take charge of your feelings. Instead of mumbling doubtfully, “You always want to take the risky route,” say, “I feel more comfortable with a proven approach because…”

Lakshmi Narayan, a Dubai-based stress specialist, explains why “I” statements are so effective. “They tend to be a powerful tool to shift 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 see 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 belief, embrace curiosity

Science backs it up: A 2022 US study published in Psychological Science found that most people prefer conversation partners who are interested in learning from them, not just persuading them. This means people want conversations where their points of view are truly considered, even in disagreements, researchers say.

So the next time you find yourself in a disagreement, drop the “winning” mentality, Pullam explains. 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 perspective.

Set clear intentions and expectations before a conversation

The key is to set clear intentions up front. Knowing the common goal helps everyone communicate more effectively

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

The key is to set clear intentions up front. 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 opportunities for growth:

Define your goals clearly: Before you begin, take some time to determine what you both hope to achieve.

Recognize differences: Recognize that you may have different perspectives and show genuine interest in understanding the other person’s point of view.

Focus on learning: Approach the conversation with an open mind and aim to learn from each other rather than “win” an argument.

As Hammett reminds us, “Effective communication takes practice, but these strategies can help you navigate disagreements with grace and turn them into positive experiences for everyone involved. Remember that 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.”