Two years on from the Rabaa and Nahda dispersals and consequent election of Abdul Fattah El-Sisi as president, political feuding is tearing the country apart, both in the streets and around the dinner tables. Ahmed El-kalliny, a global marketing manager and strategy consultant inSan Diego, California, weighs in on the art of disagreeing.
As Egyptians, we have been raised to see disagreement as disrespectful, and any concession to the other view as weakness. As a result, what starts as a spirited discussion often escalates into a furious quarrel about who’s right, followed by personal attacks. In many cultures outside Egypt, however, you find friends disagreeing one moment and then genuinely laughing moments later — despite having reached no agreement. Many of us don’t quite understand why these people were not passionate enough to stay fuming or why they didn’t try harder to “convince” the other party about the “right” viewpoint. These are people who have learned the true art of disagreement, how to navigate difference in opinion. This diversity of thinking helped them to create a critical system of checks and balances, which ultimately is healthier for everyone, despite how each party may feel at the time. In order to refine one’s ability to disagree artfully, it requires skill, practice, and — above all — patience. Some practical tips:
Be comfortable with the current status. Realize that you will most likely not change the opinion of the person you are talking with. At best, the other party might be influenced by some your viewpoints and adjust their opinion at a much later date and most likely, when you’re not around.
Check your pride at the door. The aim of the discussion is not about proving you’re right or the other person is wrong. Focus instead on becoming more educated on nuances or elements about the topic that each party may have missed. Leave your pride and ego out of the discussion, and be gentle in your tone and body language.
Remember there isn’t always a right and wrong. Or at least act that way in the discussion. Unless you are talking about established facts or precise measurements, most topics are not black or white. Whether an opinion is right or wrong is determined separately by each evaluator.
Don’t start sentences with “I disagree.” Instead, try to find something in the contrasting argument that you agree with and reiterate that. By displaying your willingness to be diplomatic, you’ve made it clear to the other party that you are a good listener and have good intentions beyond rattling off your opinion in a stubborn manner.
Avoid dangerous trigger words such as “all,” “never,” “mafeesh,” “kol.” There are usually exceptions to these statements, which will ultimately steer both parties away from the main topic. Even when you cite facts, err on the side of caution by using more neutral language. The art of disagreement may turn out to be one of the few things we can each individually improve today, to make our country better and even hasten the democratic process. Hopefully we can all channel the current tension lingering over any conversation into healthy and inspiring debate — even if we don’t all agree.