Wright Foundation | January 28, 2021

The Hidden Power of Expressing Disagreement

Today, it may seem as though most people wait until there’s a political or economic issue to express their opinion.

Do you dare to dislike? Do you express your disagreement? Many of us hold back, but here’s why you should say how you feel!

We see strong opinions expressed to us constantly online (behind the cover a keyboard and sometimes anonymously). But when it comes to our in-person interactions, we may find that we hold back for fear of causing disruption or creating conflict. We know those disagreements and even frustrations are there, but we worry about someone disliking us or disapproving.

Now, what we may or may not realize is that people are continually expressing their opinions. All of us do it, and we regularly hear others express feelings, whether it’s about the weather, sports, or something more personal. We might say what we like or don’t like when it’s a benign topic. But when it gets deeper, we find ourselves holding back.

So, why do we hold back from saying how we really feel? Are we trying to behave in a manner appropriate for the situation? Or are we afraid to express what we know is true?

Why We Hold Back from Expressing our True Feelings

There’s a scene in the movie While You Were Sleeping that reiterates why it’s so important we express our true feelings (even if it means telling others we dislike or disagree with a situation). Sometimes it’s uncomfortable or challenging, but honesty is crucial.

In the film, the father has a hardware business. He’s planned for his son to become his successor and eventually step in and run the family company. The son has been steadily building up his carpentry skills, realizing it’s truly his passion. He walks into breakfast and exchanges a few pleasantries with his dad.

He asks his father how the business is going, and his dad says:

“Life’s a pain in the ass. You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then for one minute, everything is good. Everyone is well. Everyone is happy. In that one minute, you have peace.”

His son replies, “Pop, this isn’t that minute. You remember that rocking chair I made for Grandma? Two months ago, I sold three, just like it. I’ve sold two dining tables, and I’ve got orders for six more.”

His dad says, “Well, that’s a good side business.”

He replies, “Dad, it’s not a side business; it’s good business.”

As realization comes across his dad’s face, he says, “Wait a second, you don’t want my business?!” His son tells him he doesn’t, and he’s felt that way for a long time. The dad exclaims, “Well, why didn’t you say something sooner? I could’ve sold the whole damn thing to Uncle Eddy for twice the value! I could’ve taken your mother on a cruise with Kathie Lee Gifford!”

How many times are we like the son in that movie? We go along with our mouths shut because we’re afraid to speak up when there’s something we dislike or disagree with. We may take on tasks we don’t want to do or eat a meal we didn’t order. We may notice problems at work, but we don’t want to bruise our boss’s ego. We shy away from conflict because we’re scared, only to learn down the road we should’ve spoken up much sooner!

How many times do we imagine whole scenarios before they even happen? We find ourselves having imaginary conversations with our coworkers while we’re commuting or standing in the shower. Maybe we envision how a conversation with our parents or our spouse will go long before it even happens. By the time we actually talk to the person, we’re pissed off, defensive, and ready to fight (and they haven’t even said anything). OR we play it out and decide not to say anything at all, but instead, we silently seethe over an imagined reaction.

Too often, we’re too busy projecting reactions onto people to notice where they really are. We play out scenarios in our head and imagine what-ifs instead of confronting and engaging. These projections cause us not to realize our potential. They hold us back from saying what we like and dislike. They keep us from expressing our disagreement when disagreements can bring us closer together in the truth.

Why Holding Back from Expressing Your Feelings is a Costly Mistake

Holding back often plays out in the board room at a high cost. Workers are so used to placating and acquiescing to the boss’s wishes that they don’t speak up—even when something is really wrong.  We’re afraid of expressing our disagreements, and so we sit there with a smile, saying, “Yes, that’s a great idea,” when we really know it’s terrible.

When we’re afraid to disagree or say what we don’t like, we may find ourselves in an “emperor’s new clothes” scenario. We go around blowing smoke, telling our superiors what a great job they’re doing when problems go unnoticed. Eventually, when the initiative (or even the whole company) fails, the blame is at least partially on us. We saw the train barreling towards us but didn’t say anything.

Honestly and clearly expressing our disagreements is a big deal in companies and a significant component of leadership. Leaders speak up and say what’s not working—even if it will rock the boat. Other people keep their mouths shut until they become so frustrated, they quit and look for other employment. The astounding thing is that people would rather switch companies than say what they don’t like and try to spur change.

If you’re holding back, it may weigh you down. It may also end up costing you and your company big time. Don’t make the mistake of keeping your mouth shut when you should speak up!

Expressing Our Disagreements Helps Us Harness our Personal Power

During our Year of More training, our students engage in exercises to strengthen their personal power. We call these assignments and experiments the “assignment way of living.” One of these exercises is to go out and start expressing their likes and dislikes. As they become more comfortable, we ask them to express their likes with the intention of getting something.

We’ve had students receive a myriad of surprising things only by asking and expressing their feelings. Throughout the assignment, they often realize that they can comfortably become much more honest when they build a rapport with others. They can start asking for what they need. Conversely, they also learn to express what they don’t like. Better still, they can do it without pissing off the other person (most of the time).

Now, expressing dislikes and disagreements can be equally powerful. While people aren’t as accustomed to hearing “what I don’t like is…” both sides (likes and dislikes) work toward setting our intention and helping us get what we want. It’s crucial to express what we don’t want and to let others know when we disagree.

Now, of course, there are times when expressing what we like or don’t like can be inappropriate or hurtful, but those times are rare. Most of the time, when we go into it honestly, with empathy, and emotional awareness, we can express our feelings and still maintain a healthy rapport.

In most situations, speaking the truth and expressing your feelings will move you closer to what you want.

When we honor our truth by expressing our likes and dislikes, we allow others to get closer to us because we’re authentic and living as our genuine selves. We all want to be seen for who we really are, and expressing our dislikes and disagreements bring us into the light.

If we’re holding back because we’re afraid of causing conflict or making someone dislike us, start with small steps. Tell someone an honest opinion (even if we don’t think they’ll agree) and see what happens. Don’t go into the situation defensively or with a guard up. Set the intention for transparency and a commitment to honesty.

It may be surprising how honesty opens up the situation. When we don’t gloss over our feelings or what we know isn’t working in the situation, we come to the point of clarity. Express it! For ways to engage in conflict fairly (in ways that will strengthen the relationship), don’t miss The Heart of the Fight, where we explore the rules of engagement.

When you speak the truth, you begin to recognize the enormous impact you have on the world. The truth always gives us power.

For more ways to discover your personal power, visit the Wright Foundation. We’re excited to announce that many of our courses are available for download on Wright Now. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about yourself and ignite your world!