How to respond to an opinion you don’t agree with

zubi asks: How should we respond to an opinion we don’t agree with?

Hi zubi –


There are two very silly things about your question.  The first is that the answer is so clear… and the second is that SO MANY HUMANS don’t know how to do it!  If you’ve grown up watching politicians on TV, it sure makes sense to me that you haven’t learned this simple skill.  And that’s a shame.  A shame on them, not on you.  You’re the person who’s humble and honest and open enough to ask.  (I’d vote for you for anything!)


The simple answer is Respect.  What makes people upset when others disagree with them is that they’re not getting shown respect in the disagreement.


Let me give you an example.  Let’s say Handsome and I are walking, and I pass a tree that lots of dogs have peed on, and I think it’s the most interesting, great-smelling thing ever.  And so I try to stop and sniff it.  Now if Handsome says “Okay, pup, we can stay here for just a minute, but I have to get back home to return that girl’s phone call,” I’m fine.  Sure I’d rather wait longer, but I understand.  Now what if he says “You stupid dog, that tree stinks!  You don’t really want to smell that.  Come on, get moving.  If you want to sniff something, there’s a pretty flower garden up ahead, that’s much better.”


Do you see the difference?  In the first one, Handsome is respecting my taste in smells, and my desire to stop.  In the second, he’s completely scorning them.


Now let’s move on to a more human version.  Let’s say there’s an election coming and you’re thinking of voting for Candidate A, while your friend wants to vote for Candidate B.  Here are two ways your friend could respond to that news.


“Really?  Wow, I’d love to hear what you like about Candidate A, because I’m really leaning to voting for Candidate B.  B has such good policies about bones and bacon!”  Or your friend could say “What?!  Are you kidding?  A is a total buffoon!  Anyone who’d vote for A must hate themselves and the world.  A isn’t even a real human being!”  Now which statement is more likely to create an intelligent conversation?!


The fact about Opinions is that they’re not Facts!  Opinions only exist because they’re not absolute truths.  I don’t like cats.  You might have six at home with one about to have kittens, and love them more than anything.  Neither of us is ‘wrong.’  We just have different opinions.  I don’t like most vegetables, but I know lots of vegetarians who find the thought of eating meat nauseating.  Neither is ‘wrong’ (though I’ll acknowledge that the world might be a better place if everyone were vegetarians – but it’s really hard to get a dog to change its tastes!).


In truth, the most disrespectful thing you can do when someone offers their Opinion is to tell them they’re absolutely wrong.  But the second-most disrespectful thing would be to tell them they’re absolutely right, when you don’t really believe that.  The most respectful thing you can do is to respectfully honor their opinion, and express your disagreement.  “You love Lady Gaga?  I wish I could enjoy her as much as you do, but all her music sounds like noise to me.  I’m so much bigger a fan of Nikki Minaj.”  That’s fine.  You’re not disrespecting the other person’s taste.  “You really think that orange shirt looks good on him?  Wow, to me it seems to clash with his eyes.  I keep thinking he’d look better in blue.”  Great.


See, a big part of honoring the other person’s Opinion is to acknowledge your own.  When you say “Oh I just love country music,” you’re not disrespecting their love of heavy metal and rap; you’re just saying you have a different, and equally-valid, opinion.


But I have one warning for you.  There might be some opinions you encounter in your life that you find so heinous that you can’t react to them respectfully.  For example, I’ve met people who say “The best way to discipline children is to whip them with a belt.”  To me, that’s so wrong that it’s not even a matter of opinion.  And with one like that, I think the best thing to do is to be completely honest:  “I disagree with that completely, both morally and in terms of the results it creates.”  And you might even add, “And the fact that you believe that changes my view of you.”


Now that’s harsh.  But sometimes it’s important to speak up for what you truly believe in.  It may not make you liked instantly, but it might make you a great person.


Speaking of great, thanks for the great question!  (In my opinion!!!)




About the Author

Leave a Reply 0 comments

Leave a Reply: