Published: 05th November 2018
The art of disagreeing: How to politely say 'no' to someone in different situations
Saying ‘no’ to someone is one of the communication functions that we have to perform in different situations
In my last two columns, I discussed the importance of using politically correct language in both formal and informal situations. This week’s column focuses on the need for using the language of agreeing and disagreeing politely but emphatically.
It is easy to agree with anyone but to disagree with someone is not easy. It requires not only courage but also a knack. The act of disagreeing with people is seen as something negative in some cultures. Disagreement does not mean disrespect. A person may be very close to another person but they may disagree with each other on many things. In the workplace too, we disagree with our colleagues on many issues. Saying ‘no’ to someone is one of the communication functions that we have to perform in different situations. Anthony Bourdain, the American television personality, expresses his view on disagreement in these words, “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”
Look at this piece of conversation between Paul Varjak (George Peppard) and Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s:
Paul Varjak: Holly, I’m in love with you.
Holly Golightly: So what?
Paul: So what? So plenty! I love you. You belong to me.
Holly: No. People don’t belong to people.
Paul: Of course they do.
Holly: I’m not going to let anyone put me in a cage.
Paul: I don’t want to put you in a cage. I want to love you.
Holly: It’s the same thing.
Paul: No it’s not. Holly...
In the dialogue above, Paul Varjak disagrees with Holly Golightly when she says she does not belong to anyone. It is quite natural for anyone to disagree with others.
Agreeing and disagreeing with people politely plays an important role in an interpersonal relationship. When we agree with someone we use one of these expressions:
That’s a good point
Look at these examples:
A: I think the conference will be quite useful.
B: You’re right. The speakers are well-known names in the field.
A: I think the meeting will get over only after 6 o’clock.
B: I know the chairperson has been discussing irrelevant points.
A: The students don’t seem to be interested in developing their knowledge and skills.
B: That’s true. Some of my students haven’t submitted their assignments yet.
A: We need longer holidays from work.
B: You’re right.
Disagreeing politely is an art. It is very important to soften our disagreement and make our point clear. It is good to show that we understand the other person’s opinion. The following expressions can be used when disagreeing with someone.
I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you on this
I’m afraid I disagree with you
I see what you’re saying but I think…
I respect your point but in my opinion…
I’m sorry I don’t see it that way
I’m afraid I have a different opinion on that
When we totally disagree with what someone has said, we can use the following expressions:
Of course not
Nothing of the kind
Here are examples of how these expressions are used in sentences:
A: If coaching centres are closed, students will study on their own and think creatively.
B: I respect your point but in my opinion coaching centres help weak students score better marks.
A: There should not be much salary differences between school and college teachers.
B: I’m afraid I disagree with you.