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Is there a polite alternative to "We'll just have to agree to disagree" that can be used as an exit strategy from a relatively friendly debate when a person feels they've said all they have to say and no longer wishes to press the point, but doesn't wish to "walk out of the room and slam the door" or imply "having the last word"?

My issue with the phrase is that it seems very cliché / overused, to the point of almost having a negative connotation (to me, it has a subtle ring of "superiority" that I can't quite put my finger on -- it almost has a "weasel word" quality to it due to its overuse).

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"Let's leave it at that" is the simplest and most common –  Joe Blow Mar 30 at 7:01
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It implicates [[Not only do I not agree with you, but I'm also civil; unlike you who wants to keep arguing. Moreover, if I'm that amiable, then I must -really- disagree with you.]] –  Hal Mar 30 at 19:11
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"Let's disagree to agree" –  tangrs Mar 30 at 20:56
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hanson.gmu.edu/deceive.pdf –  luser droog Mar 31 at 10:07
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I could agree with you but there's no point in both of us being wrong. –  user70589 Mar 31 at 12:41
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8 Answers 8

up vote 35 down vote accepted

There are different ways of saying agree to disagree that influences how it might be perceived. It was first recorded in a letter of 1750 by George Whitfield, who stated

After all, those who will live in peace must agree to disagree in many things with their fellow-labourers, and not let little things part or disunite them."

It was used still earlier (1704) without the exact phrasing in a sermon by John Piggott:

And now why should we not agree to differ, without either enmity or scorn?"

To not use a well-intentioned, apt, and old phrase because some abuse it seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  • We'll just have to agree to disagree, won't we? - agreed, insincere and unconceding.
  • Let's agree to disagree. - more useful, polite, and still allows the other in the conversation to press their point, again, if they are obstinate.
  • Perhaps we can agree to disagree? - I think this is a sincere attempt to bring unhelpful disagreements to a close in a friendly manner. Concedes that both arguments might have merit but one or both of the participants can't stop repeating themselves, thinking the other would agree if only they understood what was being said. The problem here is equating understanding with agreement, a very common error.

However, if you're looking to a more polite phrase to end an argument, I might propose

appeal to humor

Well, I've already said far more than I know about this!

appeal to a wiser person

I wish Confucius were here to tease out the truth. or We might need Solomon here; Lord knows I do. (This infers that the truth is around but speaker concedes he's not wise enough to find it.

appeal to relationship

You're a good (state relationship) and I respect your opinions. I don't want to (taint/tarnish/sully/stain/blot/mar/soil/muddy/damage/harm/hurt/besmirch) our (relationship example) over this.

appeal to peace

We are both peaceful people; let's give this up. or Let's move to more peaceful places.

appeal to better uses of your time

We're just not using our time to the best effect. Let's go knock back some beers at a good place I know.

appeal to honor (HT @Patrick M)

a.) nerds*

Let's settle this like nerds. I challenge you to a duel (with video games, board games or card games)!

b.) jocks*

Let's settle this like men. I challenge you to a (race, game of basketball, tennis, fighting match)!

c.) manly men

Let's settle this like real men. Whoever can (pick up the first chick, eat the biggest steak, bench press the most) wins the argument!

appeal to pride

I admit I just can't understand your point. I'm hopeless.

appeal to the ideal

In a perfect world, we would agree.

appeal to higher power

Let's let (God/other) solve this and have harmony until then.

appeal to authority

I wonder what (authority figure of choice) would say.

appeal to relative importance

The world won't stop if we disagree. This is not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, the possibilities are endless if you really only seek to end the argument. But you'll see that it may well cost you something to pursue peace, and it may not be as effective as just ending the argument by agreement. If you're willing to give something up, by all means, use that. But if you just want peace, I think "Please, let's agree to disagree" gives both parties an out without losing anything.

*Editted to add excellent suggestions by Patric M.

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All I was going to say, was that none of this stuff would be needed if only we went back to fighting duels! –  WS2 Mar 29 at 20:25
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@WS2 If you only knew just how much I truly agree with you on that one. Also, I just got a great image of a knight saying "we'll just have to agree to disa..." then promptly getting impaled by a lance (which, incidentally, is close to the image I get every time somebody says that to me). –  Jason C Mar 29 at 20:47
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@medica What a great answer, thanks! I like that you listed possible approaches (especially "better use of time", which seems to be the most common situation that I'd want to use this phrase in). It also opens up the mind to think about other possibilities besides the ones you listed. –  Jason C Mar 29 at 20:49
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Where would raising an eyebrow and stating, in a serious manner, "so...it has come to this" fall? –  David Wilkins Mar 30 at 9:39
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There was a circle of friends I was peripheral to in college where disagreements were frequently settled with dueling... with video games, board games or card games. I would file that under appeal to a better use of your time, subheading let's settle this like nerds. (Note well: I am a huge nerd.) –  Patrick M Mar 30 at 18:57
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Agreeing to disagree probably results when two people disagree at a higher level (over values or principles) rather than at a lower level (facts or ways of working).

You could humbly say, "I'll need some time to understand why X is important to you, and I hope you'll take some time to think about why Y is important to me." (or something that spins an optimistic tone).

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+1 I like this line of thought. It opens up a lot of other possibilities too. –  Jason C Mar 29 at 20:42
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How 'bout shrugging one's shoulders while playfully cocking one's head the the side and smiling while saying, "hey... tomayto, tomahto, right? No big deal." And then just moving on.

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That might work, if the other party gets the reference. Most people outside the USA wouldn't. And (I'm guessing here) many Americans neither. –  Tonny Mar 31 at 15:15
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Whatever

Of course ideally one should mumble this and leave without saying anything further, so I'm spoiling the effect.

Posting this after up voting medica's thorough answer.

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Rather than using a cliché or metaphor, perhaps a more direct approach is what you are looking for. Simply say:

"I'm not going to argue with you about this anymore."

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Only applies if the preceding conversation was actually an argument, as opposed to a civilized exchange of views... and even then it's too brusque IMO. –  smci Mar 30 at 6:58
    
@smci - moreover, if the preceding conversation was not an argument, this statement is quite aggressive and nasty as you're labelling the other person's dialog as an argument. –  paj28 Mar 30 at 19:11
    
Yes @paj28 that's what I'm saying. It's an (ad-hominem) dismissal of the other person's point of view. –  smci Mar 30 at 22:56
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If a conversation has reached the point where "agreeing to disagree" is the next step, it's been an argument. A civil exchange of ideas ends with "thank you for your perspective". (Arguments are fundamental to civilization. They're what we do instead of killing each other.) –  DougM Mar 31 at 5:50
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You could end it by saying: "Perhaps", even though you doubt their argument. I find this often has the added benefit - by appearing to concede to the possibility of the other party's argument the other party will often re-consider yours too.

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How about a nonchalant, passive approach:

"Oh well, we're not getting anywhere here. Let's not worry about it."

This is probably best followed up with an immediate, upbeat conversation about something you can agree on (e.g. "By the way, I saw the pics you posted from your holiday") if your aim is to end the argument with no hard feelings and no awkward air.

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Pace means to have a in respectful disagreement: "With due respect to (someone or their opinion), used to express polite disagreement or contradiction"

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pace#pace-2

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