I Don't Disagree

My daughter decided to correct me on my use of a particular phrase the other day. I don’t remember the specific matter of our discourse, but I had just said to her “I don’t disagree with you.” She stopped me short. “I’m sick of people saying that. If you don’t disagree, then you agree.” 

I began to go into a rather lengthy explanation regarding the nuances between the two statements; how indicating I don’t disagree is intended to show that the point I am making is not meant to argue with anything being presented, but to show that I am in agreement while still having some points that need to be ironed out. Halfway through this explanation she gave me that look that daughters, even at 25, still use to convey the message “Dad, you are lame, your explanations are lame, and, no matter how long we are together, your justifications will always be lame.” (I think I understand how someone with 25 years of life experience might carry that off with just one look. But how did she manage such complicated expressions when she was only three?)
And all it takes is to have someone mention one thing – one idiosyncrasy – and you become annoyingly aware of it. (One I’ve mentioned before. “Utilize” is just a fancy way of saying “use”. Now try not to notice how often people overutilize it.) I never realized how often I use the phrase “I don’t disagree” until my daughter was kind enough to point it out. And, interestingly, I never realized how many people around me use the phrase.
Which is all part of a pattern I am becoming more and more aware of. I believe internal audit, in its constant attempt to erase the negative stereotypes of the past, is working way too hard to try and just get along. I think these efforts to just get along are evidenced by the little ways we try to avoid confrontation. I’m not saying we avoid the big battles (actually, in some situations we do, but that is a discussion for another time), I’m saying we try to avoid the small confrontations. We want to be team players; we use every machination we can find to not disagree. 
So, we try to find nice ways to disagree. A few weeks ago I posted a list of phrases I’d recently heard. One of those was “What you are saying is close to accurate.” (I should add that the auditor responsible for the quote called me to task for quoting her here. I tried to convince her it was a compliment. She has to agree with me; she works for me.) What she was trying to say was “You are wrong”, but it felt better to say the person was “close to accurate”. And, similarly, we do not disagree with the point that was made; we just don’t think the person is completely correct.
I throw out this challenge. Pay attention to what you are saying in all conversations. Are you afraid to say what you really feel because you are trying to be a team player? By doing so are you weakening your standing? Are you so busy just getting along that the import of what you have to say is being watered down (or, at the very least, causing everyone to spend more time because, what you are really doing is disagreeing, but it will take extra time to get to that disagreement because you say you don’t disagree?)
Step outside yourself and listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth.
And as the coda to the story, I recently texted my daughter, “Just so you know. I have become conscious of saying ‘I don’t disagree’ and am actively removing it from my conversations. You have made me talk better.” Her reply, “I do what I can.”

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Coming back to your thoughts about being creative why it’s not possible to use images in comments. Some images can say you much more than words…

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