The Healthy Way to Disagree: Contradict, Enable, or Validate

Let’s face it, pretty often we disagree with people. We disagree with what they say, how they raise their kids, decisions they make, and people they vote for.

The picture is my husband and I disagreeing on our honeymoon. I chose to show a personal photo to show it is a huge challenge to communicate when you disagree. I'm glad he took the photo, it's interesting to see how disagreeing with someone affects our whole self if it is done wrong. As you can see by our body language and faces.

In an article by Psychology Today regarding empathy, they mention, “According to Aristotle, moral virtues involve the balance of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional factors. The morally virtuous person is one who exercises rational constraint in the indulgences of appetites and actions.”

Why is this important? Interpersonal communication is one of the most important things we can learn. Our marriages, jobs, and our children's behavior depend on it. In the book Interpersonal Communication in Friend and Mate Relationships the author Anne Nicotera quotes, "Most Americans report that the quality of their lives is determined by the number and quality of their interpersonal relationships..," and "effective communicaiton is a crucial variable in determining the success of interpersonal relationships."

To better help your ‘moral virtue’ and protect your relationships, here are your choices when you disagree with someone and some Do’s and Don’ts for each reaction.


The verb contradict means the act of opposing something. The act. That means you are doing something. You are not just an innocent by standard. You are making the choice to act on your opposition and stand up for it.

There are many reasons to contradict. If someone is harming himself or herself in some way, if there decision or thoughts hurts themselves or someone else, you may feel it appropriate to disagree and tell them you are concerned. If you believe in something different than someone else.

The actor Ryan Reynolds wife posted a picture of him holding his daughter in a baby Bjorn on instagram. The baby’s legs were sticking out of the bottom, which is not the correct way to use the Bjorn. Thousands of people commented that he was holding the baby the wrong way. Many criticized and ostracized. Some kindly recommended he look up the correct way to do it for the baby’s safety.

He even responded saying he was a new dad and it was a mistake. Contradiction can be helpful if you do it right. Some people were kind others were not. Effective contradiction involves thought and calculation and it can be important, like the safety of someone’s baby.

But if it’s Christmas Eve and your drunken uncle wants to talk about politics, probably not the place to bother contradicting.

If you choose to contradict:


Think before you speak. Stop and make sure you plan what you say. It will keep you from putting your foot in your mouth.


If we react loudly and annoyed, then most likely the other person will be defensive no matter what we are saying. Saying something in a calm and understanding manner will give you more chance of your opinion being heard.


Telling someone why they are wrong is not the best way to be heard. Instead focus on your own points and why you believe it.


If your point is not getting across or the situation is escalating, find a way out, and try another time.


One definition of the verb enable is to give power to. When feelings matter more than your opinion, enabling can be the right thing to do. If someone is going to hurt themselves or is insulting someone then enabling may not be the right thing to do. If the decision outweighs their feelings, enabling will not help.

Your best friend just got dumped. Even if you think its best for them, that is not the time to say it. Pointing out pitfalls in the relationship isn’t going to do any good it will just hurt your friend more.

Your husband didn’t get the job he wanted, even though you knew he didn’t have the qualifications, it does not help to point that out, not when he is still hurting from the loss.

If you choose to enable:


Even if you are enabling, you don’t have to lie. Choose something that is true to enable their feelings. For your friend, “You really put yourself out there, that was brave.” Or to the husband that lost the job, you don’t have to say he was qualified say, “Your pitch was well done.” Or “I’m proud of you for being so passionate or ambitious”. There is always truth that can empower even when you disagree.


Enable their feelings with positivity not trash talk. Try to guide them to be positive and garner their self-esteem not say negative things about the other party, which will not help anybody.


Encourage them to get the qualifications they need or to take some time to focus on themselves. Empower them to do good things. You don’t want that friend calling the ex to tell them off. Or the husband emailing asking for another chance at the job.


If you find yourself saying my or I too often, you are probably empowering yourself more than the other person.


The Kuleshov effect is an editing technique in film. It shows that if you show the same blank face next to a picture of a woman, a coffin, or soup, the audience will believe the faces reaction to mean different things. The brain projected what the audience feels on to the image of the man…desire, grief, or hunger.

We project our own feelings onto other people. The point being you don’t have to perjure yourself to validate someone’s feelings, no matter how much you disagree with them. Just being there and letting the other person project onto you can help.

Validation is a way to be empathetic without being hypocritical. When a tired parent complains about the terrible twos, it may not be helpful to tell them they may need better boundaries with their child. It may not be helpful to enable them when you know their parenting style is hurting them, but validating their feelings can never hurt.

We can all relate to feelings. Even if you don’t have kids you most likely have felt exhausted or like you’ve tried everything, but things aren’t going your way. Validate the feelings if you can’t condone their decisions. “That must be exhausting”, or “feeling helpless is so hard”.


The simplest way to validate. Listen. We worry so much about what we are going to say or how we feel about someone’s actions or beliefs, we don’t just listen and let that person know we are there.


People feel isolated when people disagree with them, or something is going wrong. A simple hand holding, pat on the back, touch on the arm – whatever is appropriate to your relationship of course. Sit down with them. Walk with them. Lean in. If you know your words will not be validating. Think of how they are feeling and use the space around you to let them know you are in that moment and those feelings with them. Empathy is not agreement it is connection.

If your friend loses money on an investment you told them was bad. You can’t say much. They know you warned them, they may be shamed that you know they were wrong. Words will feel trite or pitiful. But most likely you know what its like to lose money or something important to you. Sitting on the couch with them. Or putting a hand on their shoulder. It says way more than any words. It says” I’m here, I’m sorry you are hurting.” Or even more “I know what it’s like to hurt too.”


Validating is not about words its about feelings. Remember your words will probably be tied up in your thoughts that are disagreeing in some way. Keep it simple and honest.

Especially when you really disagree with someone, but you know that the conversation won’t go well. Just focus on their feelings and try to keep your mouth shut. Parents and children may have fundamentally different beliefs. As Christmas comes remember this may not be the time to have the conversation about healthcare. Instead focus on how they are feeling and use the love you have for them to enjoy your time together.


You can’t. Whatever it is 99% of the time, YOU CAN’T FIX IT! People need to vent. People have different beliefs. People need to share. They don’t need you to DO. They need you to BE. Validating someone is as simple as doing nothing. Doing nothing, but being everything they need right then.

Finally, no matter whether you contradict, enable, or validate. DO remember, unless there is harm to themselves or others, our relationships are more important than being right.

Make it Small,


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