There’s a scene in the movie Anchorman, where Ron Burgundy tries to explain to Veronica how San Diego got its name. After she rubbishes his first crazy theory he tries to tell her that the real translation of San Diego was lost centuries ago.

She says,  Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?” To which he says, “Agree to disagree.”

Agreeing to disagree is a powerful communication technique, and not just out of laziness or ignorance like Ron Burgundy. Its one of the ways we can stay friends with people who have very different ideas, and one of the ways we can stay sane in families full of diverse, outspoken people.

It happened to me just recently. She just wouldn’t let it go; like a dog with a bone. I thought we were done, and I had moved on. It was something we tried and it didn’t pan out. So in my mind we had agreed to disagree and go our separate ways. But then she kept writing, with more and more reasons why she was right and I was wrong.

It reminded me of the Zen story about two monks traveling through woods.

They come upon a woman standing at the bank of a river. She needs to get across, but is unable to make it alone. The elder of the two monks picks her up and carries her through the rushing water. Once they’re safely on the other side, the woman goes on her way. The younger monk is stunned. Its part of their vows that they’re not allowed to touch women , and he doesn’t know what to make of his older friend’s behavior.

Finally, after stewing over the incident for several miles, he says to his traveling companion, “How could you touch that woman back at the river the way you did? Have you no respect for our vows?” The elder monk turns to his young friend and says, “Are you still carrying that woman? I put her down at the river bank over an hour ago.”

The older monk had no need to argue the point. He had moved on. Sometimes peace of mind is more important than right and wrong. Imagine how many of our conflicts would end the minute we stopped carrying ancient history around in our hearts, put down the past and the need to be right, and moved on?

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve had your own experiences, likely on both sides of it. A relationship ends but one or both parties can’t truly let go until they feel “right” and the other person feels”wrong”. You find yourself in an argument, fighting a battle that doesn’t really matter to you, but you fight on anyway.

These sorts of fights are hard to end once two or more egos start butting heads. So how do we get beyond butting egos?

5 Ways to Agree to Disagree

Here are 5 principles for dealing with conflict, ways you can master yourself enough to know which battles are worth fighting, which are better left alone, and how to handle them.

1. Don’t attend every argument you’re invited to.

We try to draw each other into conflict.We bait each other. It makes us feel powerful. So refuse to play the game. Feel secure enough in yourself that you don’t need drama to feel alive. Once you give yourself permission NOT to enter the fray at every opportunity you allow yourself time to think about whether this is really something worth fighting for.

2. Do no harm, but take no shit.

Anger is almost ALWAYS a case of mistaken identity. Most conflict directed towards us is a projection of another person’s frustration. Be kind to others when you sense this happening, but don’t buy into it. Just wish them well and move on. Getting involved in other peoples’ anger is like the Irishman who found two people brawling in the street and asked, “Is this a private fight or can anyone get involved?” Another person’s anger is NOT your fight. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is about leaving other people to deal with their own issues and choosing not to buy into it.

3. Own Your Own Shit

Other people don’t usually cause you pain. Intentionally or not, they remind you of pain you already had; pain that may have decades of history behind it, and it’s too painful to really address, so it just turns up all over your life, a shadow lurking in every dark corner. You fight the shadows, but of course there’s nothing real there. Once you learn to recognize (and own) your own pain, reasons for conflict disappear and agreeing to disagree becomes easy.

4. Respect Others Perspectives Without Giving Up Your Own

Aristotle said it well,

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

There is a way that everyone can win, without anyone giving up their values. It’s called empathy. The beautiful thing about empathy is that you can feel another persons pain as if its your own and this empathy brings compassion, but you don’t have to save them or solve their problem. You can understand another person’s perspective without giving up your own. You can respect another person’s opinion without agreeing with them.

 5. Separate the person from the perspective

Lets face it, we all have our moments. We all say things we regret. We all change our minds. If we see each other with compassion, then we can forgive an awful lot of what happens. See people are people first, and then you have a frame of compassion to hold any perspective.

San Diego IS probably named after a Portuguese explorer, but it doesn’t really matter. The woman I mentioned earlier can continue to think I’m wrong. It’s fine. In the end, for her sake, I hope she sees a bigger picture. But I can’t control that. So I wish her well, refuse to buy into her conflict and move on with a clear mind.

Being right is fine. Its part of standing up for your convictions. But being right at the right time and for the right reasons and doing it in the right way, now that’s mastery.

Agreed? If not, its okay. We can agree to disagree!

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  1. Elaine says:

    Super! Thanks, Ian!  I sure can agree with this!!   It’s always been difficult for me to make my point and then let it be.  I find more and more I’m aware that it’s okay to just agree to disagree. And be content with that.

  2. F. Bacon says:

    Worst thing is if it’s the person who accuses you has power over you. They spread their perceptions to others in your social group until you have been made their pariah. They can perceive an attribute in you that you don’t even have.

  3. Jorah says:

    I have someone that has this problem daily, (actually hourly)  He argues with everyone, and makes it his entire day to relive every issue.  If I was doing this, he would recognize it, and try to “teach” me to change my patterns. But he cannot see that he does it.  If he is not blaming his parents for his upbringing, it’s everyone else.  The only thing I can do, is not engage when he tries to pick fights with me.  I know it has nothing to do with me, and I cannot control who he chooses to be.

  4. Mary Ann says:

    Good piece, Ian. Very practical and the stories are right on. I’m thinking of a couple social media situations where, even though I’m “anonymous” I allow myself to get pulled into an argument. Now I’ll just post “Thank you for the invitation, but I will not be attending this argument.”

  5. What a wonderful article.  Thank you for the tools to handle disagreements.I tend to be one of those who likes to argue, or at least state my opinion, on many things.From the sidebar of recent posts I want to read most of them. I have signed up to receive your newsletter. Thank you again for a thoughtful piece. Susan

  6. Sarah J says:

    Ian great post.  Last year, I went through a breakup where this term was used. I left and agreed to disagree as something that challenges a human/partner value specifically, my values  is not something that I can “agree to disagree on” while also feeling authentic and and remain in partnership.I appreciate your use of “butting egos” as I realized it was not that for me but an acceptance that I wasn’t withthe right partner. I later discovered he had mental issues and had lied about being divorced so, no we cannot agree ot disagree on that being immoral. My choice was to agree to disagree, to move on and to  honor what was right for my lifestyle. There does come a point where one agrees to disagree and also decides ot honor their values. I am glad that I did that as I agreed for far to long to conditions that didn’t make me feel valued,  or appreciated 🙂 Great post! 

  7. Berris says:

    Thank you very much Ian, This is extremely helpful to being healthy psychologically. Berris

  8. Fiona says:

    Well done, very insightful and I really enjoyed your examples. Very relateable. 

  9. Tessie says:

    People who argue a lot, and who get angry a lot are calling out for help. In any case, that is how I choose to hear them. It changes my experience of dealing with them.Also, Ian, have you written a column on how to explore where one own anger is coming from?

  10. Anonymous says:

    It don’t take all this writing to say I am wrong.the ladies is right Back in1953 the Marines drields. It all Marines head that San Diego is not corect. Saint Diego. Is the right way say this Mexican mans name given to The state of Ca. In the 16th century sorry on officens. I lived there for 10 years

  11. cope says:

    You should not be using those bad wards the woman is rightyou should Read. 2timothy 3–1–5

  12. Sherry says:

    That was very profound! 

  13. […] There's a scene in the movie Anchorman, where Ron Burgundy tries to explain to Veronica how San Diego got its name. After she rubbishes his first crazy theo (It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.  […]

  14. Kathy says:

    Thank you. I am going to read this daily so it sinks in. I will be sharing it with my sons & husband too. 

  15. Greta says:

    Good stuff.  Agreeing to disagree rocks. Just because you have an opinion and want to share it doesn’t mean I have to eat it. 

  16. Joseph says:

    Extreme anger is wrong…but to agree to disagree…that’s a revelationTo see the bigger picture…to be bigger than to pick a fightIt is better to be empathic than to have a chip on one’s shoulder…thank you

  17. Bharathan Rajaram says:

    Ian, I think this is a wonderful reminder to all of us. That said, I disagree with some of the points you make. Maybe, in time, I’ll come to discover things about life and myself, and will find that I agree, or maybe not. I like that you suggest empathy and compassion. I like that you suggest we respect each others right to disagree. What I disagreed with, comes down to whether or not we should care enough to help someone resolve their conflict. In many cases,  caring enough means being there to give feedback and offer help. I don’t know if I’ve misunderstood. Do let me know what you think. Thank you for sharing these wonderful thoughts with us.

  18. Ro says:

    I identify with Tessie’s comment… I overreact with anger and argue a lot. This article was helpful and I will read the one you suggested Ian. Thank you!

  19. […] Agreeing to Disagree ~ 5 Ways to Handle Conflict. […]

  20. Charlotte says:

    As a woman who was betrayed by a cheating husband after 20 years together, I guess I will have to “agree to disagree” with the statement that, “Other people don’t usually cause you pain. Intentionally or not, they remind you of pain you already had.” My pain from that experience was ABSOLUTELY CAUSED BY OTHER PEOPLE. *I* did not make that choice, for him to have an affair. *My* pain from that event was not pain I already had; it was fresh and raw and new, and caused by *him* (and her, since she did know he was married).So yes, Virginia, there are people out there who DO hurt others and who WILL cause you pain.Like Bob Marley said, “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”Whether or not my husband is worth suffering for is another question…right now it is looking like a big fat “no,” and I will grant you that some of *that* everyday pain is due to “my own shit.” But the affair was absolutely, positively, an OTHER person causing ME pain, and NOT some shit rambling around in my own head.It would be nice to see more affirmations that acknowledge that sometimes other people are assholes and it is not always “our own fault” or a result of our own self-sabotage somehow.Thanks for letting me vent. 

  21. Stuart C says:

    I’m an asshole who has caused pain to many people along the way, and I used to go out into the world looking for injustices done v against me just so I could pick fights with people.  It still happens from time to time especially when I’m tired and hungry but I’m trying very hard to sit on it when the urge comes up,  a good situation in which to practice this ‘sitting on it’ is my morning commute, I just cannot bear it when people who are moving faster than me cut in front or interrupt my step pattern (my flow) so I am trying to accept that these small adjustments in movement for the perceived lack of consideration in others are necessary to avoid ripping them up and getting into an argument every five minutes. This, however, is not an easy task and to watch my mental state whilst all of this ‘competitive movement’ is going on makes me wonder if I am completely mentally unstable…

  22. Katie C. says:

    “Bate” should be “bait”….i’m right. (Ha, ha! Sorry, couldn’t resist!)  But seriously, I find this to be really good wisdom. I will pass this on and thanks to the author for putting this together in an easy to understand format. 🙂   

  23. Cynthia says:

    You have spelled this out so well! I enjoyed reading this and totally relate as I’m exercising it now, in connection with my ex-husband, who is my children’s father. It’s reassuring to be able to read it as you have it broken down into these facets. This is a manner of dealing with conflicts that I’ve become accustomed to, but hadn’t gained the understanding of it, outside of my experience. It’s so much more peaceful and reduces the drama, significantly. It’s not a matter of snubbing, it’s a matter of selectively participating in situations where my position, communications and interactions are valid. Life is fleeting and I care about where I’m investing my thoughts, feelings and energy. Makes perfect sense to me ~ Thank you!

  24. Virginia Urbach says:

    Thank you so much, Ian, for the reminder. I have read this very insightful blog before but I am thankful it surfaced just when I needed to read this again. You always come to my need whether you know it or not, as if you are psychic. Much luck and love to you and yours.

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