How to Disagree Without Fighting: Placing Empathy at the Heart of Humanity

Disagreeing while using empathy is a true art. Empathy, as I define it, is knowing the other through feeling and opening to the other’s perspectives. When we disagree with someone while using empathy, we are agreeing with their being, by feeling them and understanding them. We simply disagree with some element of their thinking or expression, which may appear to be misaligned with who they are. This style of disagreement while using empathy is very harmonious and builds rapport. It is not an argument, but an attempt to serve and help the other with our empathic and compassionate heart.

Communication flows smoothly when we have empathy for the other person. Empathy can be included in any communication no matter the topic. When we offer our open-hearted empathy, we are in support of the other person, just like any true friend. When we use empathy and disagree with the another person’s ideas or methods, we still agree with who they are. We are simply offering them another possible way that we believe is better. This disagreement is not an argument. We are joining with them, and offering a different perspective from a place of understanding. 

In any communication, there is a preferred order for empathy and agreement. 

Option 1: Disagree While Using Empathy 

When someone disagrees with you in this very special and sacred way, you often don’t even feel like they are disagreeing with you. If you keep an open mind and engage in empathy with them, you can learn something new. When we disagree while using empathy, a kind of deep accord exists even when we don’t think the same way because we are in such deep support of each other. If you are making important business or shared life decisions, ultimately you will have to find agreement. Disagreeing while using empathy is an important first step to finding true agreement where neither party sacrifices anything to achieve that agreement.

Option 2: Agree While Using Empathy

With empathy, both sides achieve resonance and find alignment. True agreement with empathy is wonderful. All good decisions should ultimately be made from this state of true agreement. Sometimes, we are in such alignment with the other person that we may start here. However, it can be just as good to start from a disagreement with empathy. I believe sometimes disagreement with empathy is preferable because we are countering the heavy conditioning to falsely agree to avoid conflict. Willingness to stay true to ourself and disagree with empathy allows for a more authentic position. This position challenges our egoic sense of identity that often wants to please over and above being true to our real self. 

In order to have a truly empathic society, we really only need this simple these two options. Simply by engaging in empathy in every communication, we can revolutionize the world. In the interests of representing all possibilities, here are the other two possible options.

Option 3: Disagree Without Using Empathy

You fight, but it’s honest. Each person holds true to their own beliefs and ideals and honors their own self. This is a good starting point when each person brings forward their real truths and conflicts. From here, each person can engage in empathy with the other and move to disagreement with empathy where true understanding can happen. Unfortunately, it is often the case that both people will remain stuck at this level. Without empathy, both sides will fall into unresolvable arguments and ultimately will go their separate ways to avoid further conflict. In this case, no decisions are made and nothing is resolved. This is the unfortunate and all too common cause of so much policy gridlock and inaction in today’s world.

Option 4: Agree Without Using Empathy 

Agreement without empathy typically occurs in one of two ways, either consciously or unconsciously. You may be consciously fawning and gossiping where you yield your truth to someone based on perceived authority or expertise. You may be unconsciously doing it to avoid conflict while unintentionally creating more disconnects and gaps. Either way, this is the least preferred style to reach group cohesion. Whenever you realize this style of interaction is taking place, feel into yourself and find the disagreement that is actually here without empathy. In this way we get more real and honest with ourselves. From this new point of disagreement without empathy, the interaction can ideally move to disagreement with empathy and eventually agreement with empathy.

Remember: Always Disagree While Using Empathy

Disagreeing while using empathy is a heartfelt way to aid someone with your intelligence, rather than a competitive attempt to tear them down. Paradoxically, we can almost never achieve true, authentic, resonant agreement with empathy without first having some disagreement. No two people should ever agree about everything 100% of the time. Doing so dishonors the being. Without empathy, this false unity ultimately leads to divisiveness, separation, and conflict. When we can enter every interaction with empathy, this world will be a radically different place than it has ever been. 

To read more articles on empathy click here. Empathy is one of the central focuses of our in-person workshops. For more information and to register, click  here.

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