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How to Disagree and Persuade without Offending

persuasion.jpgDisagreeing with someone without making him mad is an art form. So let’s talk about how to get your point across without getting into a fight.

The 6 strategies of persuasion below are best utilized when you want to be heard, understood, and considered, when you seek productive exchange, when your goals involve truth and clarity, and when you want to change someone’s mind without landing yourself in a heated argument.  

Strategy #1: Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.

Kenneth A. Wells once said, “A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”

If I had to reduce this list down to just one piece of advice to help you persuade without offending, it would be this: Ask questions until you understand your opponent’s point of view.

I’ve seen far too many silly arguments that played like shadowboxing because a person wasted time attacking his own misunderstandings.

Whenever someone shows us new information (a news report, an online article, a spoken opinion), we immediately interpret that information in light of our experiences. In other words, half of what we’re hearing comes from inside our own heads!

Only by asking questions and truly listening can we escape our presuppositions and understand another’s viewpoint, and we must understand a viewpoint before we have any hope of changing it.

Strategy #2: An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile idea in it.

If you’re trying to persuade someone, there’s a good chance your mind has already closed around the conviction of your argument. Therein lies the danger –- a closed mind is great at action, but not at listening. And listening is essential to pursuasion!

I would never tell you to discard your convictions, but do remain open to suggestion, and do seek clarity. If your opponent knows you’re open to his ideas, he may entertain yours.

Strategy #3: If the world were a logical place, men would ride sidesaddle.

Use phrases like “In my opinion,” “I believe that,” or ”In my experience,” to make it clear when you’re expressing a matter of personal belief instead of a quantifiable scientific fact because this will show your opponent that you understand the difference and are open to its ramifications.

If you appear reasonable, your opponent may reciprocate.

Strategy #4: Speak two languages, one of them Body.

Effective non-verbal communication sets the stage for your persuasive argument, so it’s worth paying attention to; it’s more than window dressing, even in intimate relationships where your partner knows what you’re like behind the mask.

  • Smile to communicate friendliness and acceptance.
  • Sit up straight to project confidence.
  • Keep an open body posture (no crossed arms or legs) to communicate openness.
  • Speak in a relaxed manner (mind the tone of your voice!) to project calm and clarity of thought.
  • Make appropriate eye contact.
  • Nod when the other person speaks – this communicates understanding, not necessarily agreement.
  • Another trick to communicate understanding without compliance is to periodically say, “I understand,” or, “I hear what you’re saying.”
  • Unless your opponent possesses a difficult personality that forces you to interrupt to get in a word in edgewise, let him finish his thoughts before offering yours.

Strategy #5: Just the facts, ma’am.

At one particular Internet forum, I was constantly impressed by a member who had an amazing talent for communicating complicated (sometimes controversial) ideas without making anyone angry. So what did this Zen master of persuasion do that most of us do not? Simple: He stuck to the facts and kept his ego out of it.

The block-quote immediately below is a hypothetical example of how not to foster a persuasive conversation, intended to contrast the genius of the real-life forum example from our Zen master, further down the page:

TV-Forum Newbie: Hey guys, I think all televisions are the same. I can’t understand why some of you would pay 5 grand for a TV when the one for 500 bucks is just as good. Could someone explain this to me?

Mr. Ego: I completely disagree with you. All televisions are not the same. Why don’t you read some product reviews so you’ll be able to tell the difference? You will find differences in black level, brightness, video processing, colorimetry, geometry, contrast, and other variables. Again, all televisions are not the same, and I completely disagree with the premise of this question.

Okay, so what’s wrong with the way Mr. Ego responded? At first glance, his response seems fine. I mean, it certainly could have been worse! But only one sentence in his response focuses on the facts. The rest could easily be interpreted as a selfish assertion of ego, a quest for distinction and superiority, whether intentional or not.

So how did the Zen master handle this particular exchange? He used that one sentence I’m referring to, the one sentence that answered the question and stuck to the facts (see below):

Newbie: Hey guys, I think all televisions are the same. I can’t understand why some of you would pay 5 grand for a TV when the one for 500 bucks is just as good. Could someone explain this to me?

Zen Master: You will find differences in black level, brightness, video processing, colorimetry, geometry, contrast, and other variables.

Not very interesting, is it? But the thread from which I copied this text proceeded smoothly, with the newbie asking questions and the expert responding with simple, uncolored facts. The expert was eventually recognized for his expertise, the newbie left with newfound understanding, and no one became upset. In short, a mind had been changed.

All because the Zen master stuck to the facts.

Strategy #6: Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say that counts.

The preceding example was important not merely for what was said, but for what wasn’t. We’ve already mentioned the benefits of avoiding ego driven statements, but here’s a more comprehensive list of statements that derail persuasion more often than not:

  • Assertions of Superiority: I do it the right way; This is unacceptable; My way is better; Why can’t you do it like so-and-so; Your way of thinking is flawed.
  • Assertions of Independence: I disagree; We don’t see eye to eye; We’re not on the same page; My position is different than yours.
  • Personal Attacks: Your thinking is stupid; I can’t believe how dumb you are; Hearing you say that makes me question your morality.

Aside from the personal attacks, many of the preceding statements have their place. The key is knowing when to use them. Usually, the person seeking to persuade is better off letting the strength of his argument establish both his superiority and independence without explicitly claiming them.

These 6 simple strategies of persuasion cannot make the logic of your argument more appealing or change the nature of the person you’re trying to convince, but they can increase your odds of success. These strategies have worked for me, and I am hopeful they will work for you.

By honing your persuasive talents, you too can discover the influence inside you — an influence waiting to break free, influence others, and change the world.


27 Responses to “How to Disagree and Persuade without Offending”

  • […] Place tells you how to disagree and persuade without offending. Good advice for dealing with critical […]

  • Natasha says:

    I’m going to disagree with your use of gendered language. It’s not hard to use modern conventions in that area.

  • JohnPlace says:


    I find it interesting that you used a variation of the term “I disagree,” given the contary advice offered above.

    I’ll give you another chance to pursuade me to stop using gendered language, if you’d like to try again.

  • Pravin says:

    I think it helps to not get attached to winning the argument or debate. This allows you to remain calm and ignore any of the attacks that might come your way, and it also helps you to avoid violating many of the principles above. Maybe you can chip away at your opponent’s stance over a series of conversations. Or maybe it will never happen. Just don’t get stuck on winning each time, or you risk losing by messing up your presentation and future opportunities to persuade.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Excellent observation, Pravin. Many successful attempts at pursuasion are unforced and take place over a prolonged period of time.

  • Jason says:

    It really helps to not look at it as an argument or debate in the first place. If you simply look at it as an opportunity to learn from the other person, or an opportunity to help someone who is seeking it, you very seldom commit any of the errors above… unless you try to help in a condescending way, but that’s a different issue.

  • […] 3 Coercive Copywriting Techniques– Brian Clark is hands-down the best copywriter I’ve seen; you’ll enjoy his tips on written persuasion (whether you’re a copywriter or not), a nice supplement to How to Disagree and Pursuade without Offending. […]

  • […] Conversation: Successful relationships require solid communication: use body language, appropriate tone of voice, and eye contact; be friendly and considerate of […]

  • […] How to Disagree and Persuade without Offending This article is centered around how you get your point across without getting into a fight. The six strategies of persuasion presented and elaborated does a very good job of rounding off all aspects of engaging in conversations online. In fact I would claim that if just half the people participating in discussions online used them we would all be twice as clever as we currently are. Well worth thinking about and acting upon. […]

  • Mackenzie says:

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks Mackenzie.

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  • […] Project Confidence: Boost the positive energy in your communications by providing additional non-verbal cues: upright posture, firm handshake, uncrossed arms, calm […]

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  • […] Disagree with others respectfully and convincingly. […]

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  • Chris says:

    You used “He”, the masculine pronoun, to refer to both the Zen master and the hypothetical opponent. You could have used the modern “They” which fairly includes both genders.

  • JohnPlace says:

    A thoughtful and articulate bit of persuasion, Chris. :)

    Gendered language, on the other hand, is often the most natural way to achieve traditional pronoun/antecedent argreement.

  • John Eaton says:

    Hi John

    Really admire the clarity, concision and completeness of this article. It’s hard to think of anything you could add to this advice.

    One thing I like to see in respectful communication is (honest) appreciation for things the other person does. I find that, also, makes it easier to get peoples’ attention.

    best wishes


  • […] by taking the time to understand actions, culture, behavior, and a different viewpoint, you can cultivate influence. Developing influence shouldn’t be for self-centered reasons. It is […]

  • undoppy says:

    Думаю, что один из главных способов – провокация. Сказал что-то чуть категоричнее чем нужно (и чуть неправильнее) – кто-то обязательно не выдержит, поправит. Кстати, люди начинают активно комментировать, когда авторитет у блога уже есть и посещаемость какая-то:

  • […] Project Confidence: Boost the positive energy in your communications by providing additional non-verbal cues: upright posture, firm handshake, uncrossed arms, calm […]

  • Adrian says:

    see i just got over a heated debate with my roommates. a debate that i lost patient in after trying so hard to end it quickly. i dont like to walk away because that just leave people in a state of anger. and i just dont want to say ” i dont want to hear it” because thats just rood, i guess im still angery because i fail to stop and argument that should have never taken place in the first place. so my question is how do you end a conversation, that you dont want to have, with out offending anyone?

  • Cara says:

    Hi John,

    I just found this article after searching for a while for something that got at the heart of what I was seeking – a how-to for respectful communication when the topic is bound to cause a heated discussion. I was browsing your other articles and just subscribed. Keep up the wonderful work! I will be sharing with my friends!

  • Hello just believed i would tell you some thing.. This really is twice now i?ve landed on your blog within the final 3 weeks seeking totally unrelated things. Excellent Data! Maintain up the very good perform.

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