How to Disagree in English Politely

May 8, 2024 | Business Professional English, Communication Skills

This lesson on How to Disagree in English was originally published in June 2016. It was updated with new content in May 2024.

How to disagree in English… politely.

Is that possible?

Think about this: Have you ever felt hesitant to express a differing opinion, worrying it might spoil a conversation or a relationship? 

This isn’t just a challenge for non-native English speakers; it can be a struggle for anyone to know how to voice disagreement without coming across as confrontational.

 

For some in English-speaking cultures, disagreements can be seen as opportunities for dialogue and innovation, rather than conflicts to be avoided. However, this perspective isn’t universal. 

However, for many, a direct disagreement might be viewed as disrespectful or disruptive. 

 

So, while English speakers often share their agreement with obvious enthusiasm, you may be surprised to discover that many of the strategies and common phrases used to express disagreement are, shall we say, muddy.

Less clear. Less obvious. Almost hidden.

The language of disagreement in English may require you to read between the lines — to understand the intended meaning, but that is not directly expressed.

Understanding these nuances is crucial, not just in learning a language, but in learning how to navigate its cultural landscapes.

 

Today, you’ll dive into the key phrases and strategies for disagreeing politely plus the cultural do’s and don’ts that shape these interactions in different settings. 

Whether you’re discussing with colleagues in a boardroom or chatting with friends over coffee, mastering this skill can enhance your communication, deepen your relationships, and empower you to speak up confidently and respectfully.

How to Disagree in English Politely — Strategies, Phrases, and Examples

3 Strategies for Disagreeing

The most polite way to disagree with someone in English is to use the following strategies:

  1. Acknowledge and show you understand the other person’s opinion.
  2. Apologize before disagreeing.
  3. Express neutrality or uncertainty.

These approaches help to soften and reduce any friction while keeping the other person open to considering your thoughts. In turn, it makes your position/argument more effective.

Phrases to Effectively Disagree

Depending on your strategy, you could use different phrases to express your opposing thoughts clearly. 

Whether you’re speaking to a coworker, a client, a friend, a spouse, or a stranger, here are a few phrases you can use to disagree.

 

Acknowledge & Show Understanding

  • I see what you’re saying. I think…
  • I truly appreciate and respect your point of view. My thoughts are…
  • That’s a valid point and I think that…
  • True; fair point. I have to say I disagree…
  • I understand where you are coming from. From my perspective…
  • That’s an interesting idea. I’d like to share a different perspective.
  • That’s a good suggestion. Right now, I feel…
  • I recognize that…My point is…
  • Thank you for sharing that information. What I’m saying is…
  • I hear you and I feel differently. I think…
  • Interesting. What if…?

 

Apologize & Disagree

  • I’m sorry, I have to disagree on…
  • I’m sorry; I don’t agree.
  • Sorry, I’m afraid I disagree.
  • I’m sorry; I disagree that…
  • My apologies; I respectfully disagree.
  • Sorry, I don’t think that’s a good idea.

 

Express Neutrality or Uncertainty

  • I’m not sure I agree with you on…
  • I could be wrong but my understanding is that…
  • I don’t think you and I have the same opinion on this issue.
  • I don’t think we’re seeing eye-to-eye on this issue.
  • I am not sure I see it that way.
  • I have a completely different opinion on that.
  • To be fair, I’m unsure whether…
  • I’m on the fence about…
  • I’m not sure I can hop on board with…
  • I have some hesitations about…
  • My concerns are…

SCENARIOS:

Scenario #1: Disagreement with Client

Imagine you’re updating a client on the status of a project. In the end, they inform you that they require additional changes but still need the project to be delivered by the deadline and within the initial budget. At this moment, you may say:

  • These are great suggestions. Right now, I feel we don’t have enough resources to implement significant changes at this stage. The proposed changes will require an additional 3-4 weeks and will significantly impact the original plan and budget.

If you stop here, there’s still a chance your client will feel frustrated and unsatisfied. 

To disagree productively and soften the disagreement, it’s always important to be solution-focused. To do this, you can offer some alternatives. 

Here are some great expressions to use after expressing your disagreement. 

  • Instead, I think we should/could…
  • My suggestion would be to…
  • An alternative solution might be…
  • I would recommend that we…
  • How about we…
  • What do you think about _______ instead?
  • If you ask me, I think we should…
  • However, in the interest of X, we could…

So, at the end, you could add:

  • However, in the interest of delivering this project on time and within budget, I’d like to propose a few options for you to consider.

Scenario #2: Disagreement with an Acquaintance

Perhaps, you’re on the condo board where you live, and a change to the common areas requires a hike in maintenance fees. 

You may disagree with another resident that you have a good rapport with and only know through board meetings.

To disagree, you might say:

  • Sorry, I have to disagree with the proposal to renovate the coworking space. The residents hardly use the coworking space and I’ve observed the area at various hours of the day. Most residents prefer to work within the privacy of their units. Instead, I think we should renovate the most used area — the gym. This would serve all residents and it would be easier to justify the raise in maintenance fees. 

 

Scenario #3: Disagreement with Close Friend

Imagine you and a close friend are talking about the government’s recent increase in carbon taxes. You both have strong opinions, but your friend is particularly passionate about climate change.

In this scenario, it’s important to tread lightly while sharing your disagreement.

For example, you could say:

  • To be fair, I’m unsure whether the carbon tax is truly necessary for the fight against climate change. Yes, it could reduce our consumption temporarily, but it isn’t a long-term solution. Moreover, it increases our cost of living significantly and makes it more expensive to opt for eco-friendly options. What do you think?

 

Scenario #4: Disagreement with Loved One

Sometimes, we have to disagree with the people we love most. While this can be tricky, and the examples above highlight phrases we can use to disagree carefully, in many cases, we have the luxury of being direct in our disagreement. 

Here are some informal phrases we can use to disagree with close family and friends. These would not be appropriate for the workplace unless you know your colleagues well. 

  • No way!
  • You must be joking!
  • You can’t be serious!
  • I totally disagree.
  • I don’t think so.
  • Absolutely not.
  • Not a chance. 
  • I agreed until you said…

Let’s take a look at an example. 

Perhaps, you and your family are planning your itinerary for a family vacation. Your spouse suggests doing something new for a change and going on an adventure. In the same breath, they suggest cage diving. 

If you’re dead against this idea, you might say:

  • No way! I agreed with you until you suggested cage diving. I would much rather go whale watching or scuba diving in a shark-free zone.

But what if…?

What if you talk and talk and talk but neither of you can agree with each other? This, of course, does happen at times. Perhaps you and your colleague or friend will never see eye-to-eye ( = agree on something).

We have the perfect expression for this situation. And it will help you end the disagreement in a polite, amicable way. If you cannot discuss it anymore or you cannot find an agreement, just say:

  • Let’s just agree to disagree.

Yes, if you agree to disagree then at least you find something to agree on!

Everyone wins.

After you’ve watched the video and reviewed the language you need for disagreeing in English, I’d love to hear from you!

Review this scenario and, using what you learned, share how you would express disagreement:

  1. Imagine you and your colleagues are discussing a team-building weekend. Your boss prefers a specific weekend, but many of your colleagues will be away. One co-worker thinks you should choose the weekend your boss wants but you disagree. How could you do that?

As always, this is a great opportunity to get practice in the language + help others in the Confident English Community by sharing your thoughts and questions.

~ Annemarie

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