Do you often find yourself alone, haunted by the voice in your head echoing what you really wanted to say, or what you felt you should have said in the moment for days, months, sometimes even years? If you’re not a saint, most disagreements you leave without saying what you wanted to say will linger on in your subconscious and breed negativity, anger and resentment. Giving up on the opportunity to voice your opinion is akin to lying. If you’re choosing to be passive in an argument, make sure you’re not present instead, because that makes you a chronic liar. Dead people can’t say how they feel, and if you’re not saying what you really want to say, then you’re nothing more than a walking corpse.
You can’t expect people to give you constructive feedback on your opinion if they’re not even hearing it. Be it your colleagues at work, friends or a significant other, it’s easy to blame the other person for not assisting you in articulating what you want to say. They need to hear what you have to say, even if they aren’t allowing it or making it more difficult for you by involuntarily offering resistance. If you happen to be the least bit conflict avoidant in your communication style, disagreement will not come naturally to you. You will find it difficult to hold your own especially with people who are more disagreeable and comfortable with confrontation. A magnificently complicated combination of your IQ, EQ, memory, conflict style, language ability and personality type can leave you without words at the most crucial moments.
I think conversation is largely a right-brained process. Your body is battle-tested through generations of evolution. It’s been vetted by natural selection over a span of hundreds of thousands of years. No amount of silicon churning out of Taiwan can hope to match the might and sophistication of this system. Every time you hear something that you might disagree with, if someone says something you don’t like or casually offends you, your body will let you know before you’ve even processed the first thought to analyse it. If you’re wasting brain cycles “thinking” about the situation, you’ve already lost your opportunity to interject. That tiny explosion in your head sends a neurological shockwave through your body. If you listen carefully, you can feel it. I like to think of it as a callback message or a notification from the limbic queuing mechanism that connects between us that alerts you by informing you that it’s your turn to speak. Logical reasoning is slow, it has its place and conversation isn’t one of them. If you want to disagree before it’s too late, all you need to do is listen for that moment and respond to it.
But here’s the part that makes it difficult. How do you disagree if you can’t articulate your disagreement on the spot? You know when, but you don’t know how. Simple, tell the version of what you want to say that you don’t need time to articulate. Prepare a response that’s simpler. Just say how you feel! Say you don’t agree and then state why you disagree, even if you must do it piecemeal. Say “I don’t agree with that”, or “I don’t know if that’s right”, or “I don’t think that’s it”. If you feel you don’t have a way with words or you can’t explain why you disagree, interject anyway! Yell “No” at the top of your voice if you have to, do anything but don’t let that moment pass - something is better than nothing. Close your eyes and vehemently move your head side to side like you mean it. Wave your hands and keep saying “No” over and over again. Would that make you look like a fool? Maybe, but at least you won’t make it appear as though you agree with what’s being said.
Not being able to interject on the spot will put you on mute and that silence in conversation will translate to you agreeing with what the other person is saying. That closes your window to articulate a response and signal disagreement. Even though you might not have anything to say, you have to disagree because once that window has closed, your opponent will assume higher ground and leave you and your point buried three feet under. Practice listening for that moment and get used to responding to it. The rest will come with practice. Inform the group of your disagreement. Buy time and signal to your opponent that you might have something to say because if they have any respect for you, if they are genuinely interested in what you have to say or even remotely inquisitive about your perspective, then they will inadvertently volunteer to assist in the process and help you formulate your truth.
And if they don’t, if you are unable to explain why you disagree, then you can pat yourself on the back anyway because at least you did better than a stiff.