How to disagree without offending someone who is insensitive

Posted4/15/2023 7:00 AM

We all know people sometimes say the oddest things. Even friends and family. And when we are under the stress of grief, our nerves are fragile and we are especially sensitive, this leads to potential trouble.

A friend or relative may just say something that is upsetting, or even hurtful. It may be an unintentional slight or insensitive words, but these occasions may get magnified by grief.


It's probably a good idea to be prepared, but these situations are usually unexpected so we might be taken by surprise and not ready to give a calm response.

It's times like these when I fall back on what I'd call the "Minnesota approach." I fall back on childhood where I saw this in action hundreds of times.

Minnesotans don't like confrontations and avoid them if possible. It goes hand in hand with their aversion to expressing or listening to strong opinions. Oh, they have strong opinions, of course. They just keep them to themselves most of the time, and expect others to do so, too. So Minnesotans have devised a vocabulary that avoids unnecessary disagreements. They pick and choose their arguments carefully. They'll protest when really needed, but otherwise they defuse the moment.

The best phrases and responses are:

• "That's interesting." (End of conversation.)

• Another is "That's one way of looking at it." (End of conversation.)

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• And, of course, there is the all-purpose response: "Whatever." When used in Minnesota, this means everything from I disagree but it's not worth arguing about, to simply I don't care. Or it could mean, that's not interesting to me. (End of conversation.)

If you know a person very well who is about to be disagreeable with someone, you may caution him to stay out of it. My brother Nic advised me such several times. He'd caution me by this Minnesota phrase -- "I'm just sayin', it's not your business."

So basically the Minnesota approach is very useful way to shut down an argument before it happens. It works. At least in Minnesota. And I've found outside it as well! It takes some practice and restraint of course, but it's worth it.

The point is: This approach is very helpful in grief and can avoid offending a friend -- a relationship that may be hard to patch up later. File this under the title of things better left unsaid, or choose your battles.

And, by the way, it's also very handy when confronted with outlandish political opinions or other topics and points of view one finds unacceptable. Sometimes childhood is a very good teacher.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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