The distinguish acknowledgement from agreement module will help you to learn how to:
- Have productive conversations with people who are upset
- Avoid a defensive or angry reaction
- Build better relationships
To access the non-conforming version of this module, see Distinguish acknowledgement from agreement learning module.
Below is the transcript for the Distinguish acknowledgement from agreement YouTube video.
When we argue the “facts” with someone who’s upset, we’re more likely to trigger a defensive response from them. Their emotions may or may not have anything to do with the issue at hand. By agreeing or disagreeing with what they’re saying, you can lose the chance to uncover the real issue.
Listen to them and allow them to fully express their perspective, without adding your own thoughts or judgements. When people feel like you’re disagreeing with or misunderstanding them, they’re more likely to become defensive or shut down. Instead of disputing the “facts”, simply listen until you’re able to confirm you understand their perspective. This doesn’t mean you agree; it’s simply showing you understand the situation as they’ve experienced it.
You don’t need to agree with what someone is saying. But, when you acknowledge the stress or pain the situation is causing them, it can help open them up to potential solutions. Once you’ve heard them out, you can acknowledge their feelings by using neutral language. You could say: “I can see how frustrated you are with all of this”, or “I can see how much this has upset you” or “It sounds like this has been really difficult for you”.
This now puts you in a much better position to begin to focus on what they need.
You might begin this part of the conversation with sentences like:
- “What would make this better for you?”
- “What would be the ideal outcome?”
- “What are you willing to do now to improve this situation?”
Remember – focusing on a solution doesn’t require you to agree or disagree with their perspective. When you acknowledge their stress or pain, they’re much more likely to feel understood and to trust you to support them.
When people come to you feeling hurt, frustrated or angry, it can be challenging to know how to respond. By understanding their perspective and acknowledging how they feel, without agreeing or disagreeing, you create an opportunity for them to feel heard. This can help them manage the emotion, get to the heart of the matter and stay open to dialogue.
Distinguish acknowledgment from agreement, includes the following concepts:
Don't agree or disagree
Withhold your opinion
Use statements such as “It sounds like you’re feeling…”
Ask, don't tell
Uncover their need
Why this matters
Arguing the “facts” or disagreeing with someone who is upset is likely to trigger a defensive response.
Likewise, agreeing with someone who’s upset may indicate that you are taking their side.
By agreeing or disagreeing with what they’re saying, you may lose the chance to uncover the real issue. The emotional upset may or may not have anything to do with the issue at hand.
To acknowledge how someone feels without agreeing with their perspective:
- Don’t agree or disagree – Withhold your opinion, judgments and assumptions about what they’re telling you. You’re listening to understand their perspective.
- Acknowledge emotion – By expressing empathy for how they feel, without arguing about why they feel it, you’re allowing individuals to feel heard. How you choose your words matters.
- Ask, don’t tell – When it comes to discussing next steps or a response to the situation, ask the individual what they think would be helpful, rather than telling them what you think will work. You still don’t have to agree with their proposed solution, but before you say no, ask why they think that’s the best approach.
We don’t need to agree or disagree with what’s being said to acknowledge the emotions being expressed. This lets people know that we understand that this is difficult for them.
When we take the time to acknowledge emotions, we:
- Validate how someone is feeling.
- Can better understand why the situation is upsetting to them.
- Keep them open to on-going dialogue.
- Maintain rapport and trust.
This approach can help you avoid problems such as:
- Escalating confrontation
- Alienation or communication breakdown.
Acknowledge without agreeing
When we take sides, insert our opinion or argue details before listening to what they have to say, it can make others feel like you're dismissing their perspective.
See Response below to see the answers to the following question.
1. When we don’t agree with the details being shared, why is it important to listen rather than disputing the facts?
- a. When people meet resistance to their viewpoint, they are less likely to be able to listen to other perspectives.
- b. The facts don’t matter.
- c. You won’t learn the full story of why they feel how they do about the situation.
- d. a and c
- Answer: Ask questions to help them explore possible approaches to get their work done. When you take a coaching approach, you support employees to develop their own approach to getting the work done. This way, you resist presenting your own options or just leaving them to figure it out on their own.
When we choose our words carefully and stay neutral, we are able to acknowledge other people’s perspectives and feelings, without agreeing.
Some responses that acknowledge their experience include:
- Acknowledge emotion: "I can hear how frustrated you are with all of this."
- Acknowledge their experience: "It sounds like this has been really difficult for you."
- Use neutral language: "I can see how much this has upset you."
Remember: Express empathy for their emotional experience, without agreeing or disagreeing with their version of the situation.
See Response below to see the answers to the following question.
1. When might it be important to distinguish acknowledgment from agreement?
- The person is experiencing high emotion.
- There’s a negative reaction to something you’ve said or done.
- An interpersonal conflict.
- All of the above.
1. All of the above The nuance between developing commitment rather than demanding compliance means you continue to ensure expectations are met, but in a way that empowers employees to commit to their own success.
Tip sheet and resources
Congratulations on learning distinguishing acknowledgement from agreement. We’ve put together a tip sheet with the main learning points of this module. We recommend you save or print it as a reference. There are also free resources you can use if you want a deeper dive on this subject.
We welcome your feedback on this module or any of our resources. Please contact us with your suggestions.