“Watch your Words!” – Understanding the Difference between Disagreements and Dysfunction


In watching the news and reading the latest social media feeds, it has become clear that the latest war on humanity very much involves a “war of words” on each other.

The Internet, through Facebook, Twitter and various media sites, is replete with demeaning, degrading, and racist “comments” in the name of “defending a position” (whatever that might be).

Contrary to many articles out there, this post is not about advocating or defending one position or another. Instead, it is about recognizing and honouring that we have the social privilege and legal freedom to express our diverse opinions. It is also about ensuring that we don’t exploit that “human right” by treating each other in an inhumane way, all in the name of our “passionate” desire to advocate for a particular perspective.

Disagreements and differing viewpoints, in the workplace, in social media, in politics and otherwise, are not, by definition, inherently dysfunctional. To the contrary, it is often healthy, constructive and progressive to become and remain aware of alternate ways of “seeing” the “same” situation. This does not mean we need to agree with differing viewpoints: we simply need to respect the freedom of others to express themselves, as “uncomfortable” as their “differences” of opinion may make us feel.

Disagreements become dysfunctional in how we speak to and about others who “disagree” with us and how we then treat them as fellow human beings. As I repeatedly say in my workplace workshops on respect, it is “ALL about the HOW” – how we convey and express our opinions to others, how well and openly we listen to others, and how well we treat those with whom we “disagree”.

As children, we often are told “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything”. I disagree with this (but please don’t publicly shame, humiliate or degrade me because of my choice to disagree). Instead, I would say “If you aren’t capable of expressing your opinions, or critical “reactions” to others’ opinions, in a measured, respectful and considerate manner, then don’t communicate until you are able to do so.” Every opinion – and counter-opinion – can be communicated clearly and respectfully, as can every heated exchange or dialogue, without personally attacking those involved.

Respectful communication, particularly in the face of emotional and intense situations, is challenging. However, for the sake of the human psyche and the human condition, it is well worth the effort. Go forth and express yourself but please – make an effort to be kind when doing so.

– Marli Rusen

Subscribe to our newsletter today to receive helpful tips, resources and, of course, our latest blog posts.