We Must Learn To Disagree Well

Acts 15:36-41
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company…
Earlier in this chapter of Acts Paul and Barnabas are a power packed theological and ecclesial debate team. They knew how to combine their efforts to counter the arguments of “certain people from Judea”. By the end, it seems that Paul and Barnabas could not “disagree without becoming disagreeable.” Their “sharp disagreement” divided a great team and likely caused division among the believers as well. Nothing helpful or edifying could have come from this!
At one time or another we may find ourselves in some type of disagreement. Unfortunately, not everyone has the skills to disagree well. Yes, we can consider the ability to disagree well a professional skill in today’s workplace. Paul Graham has created a Disagreement Hierarchy (http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html). Rated from 0-6, this hierarchy examines ways of expressing disagreement from the least to the most effective. It’s worth a look!
Mainly we fail at disagreement when we attack the individual who presented the idea. We fail when we attack the way an idea was presented (I understand we may get distracted from the merits of what is proposed because the way the idea was presented wasn’t very palatable). We also fail at disagreement when we fail to counter a proposal with strong reasoning that focuses on the central point of the argument.
Most importantly we fail to set an example of mature discipleship, not to mention strong leadership, when we lose focus on what is proposed and make the person our target. It is the content, the problem being addressed, the strategies, and the solutions being proposed, not the tone or the person, that should always be the focus. There may be a time and a place to address how the information was presented, but if we are truly focused on solutions and we keep “the main thing, the main thing” we will find ourselves becoming more efficient and effective servant leaders.
We need not leave a discussion with, “we will simply have to agree to disagree”. As Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Unskilled disagreement that continues to go unchecked AND unforgiven can build resentment and bitterness whether at home, among friends, or among stakeholders.
Dr. Chris Wyckoff, Chaplain
Signature HealthCARE, Chapel Hill