10 Tips on How to Disagree at Work with Positive Results

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You’ve probably been in your share of meetings where you’ve disagreed with what someone was saying. Maybe you didn’t speak up because you didn’t want to rock the boat. Everyone else seemed to be on board.

When you refrain from commenting, your organization is missing out on your ideas. Your contributions and concerns might change the meeting’s outcome—they might help lead to a better solution. And strong leaders want your insight.

Few people seek out conflict. We think of conflict as battle—and are careful when picking ours. We’re afraid to raise issues or concerns, and may be in a work environment where we feel it’s unwise to do so. But disagreement and conflict aren’t the same thing. Admittedly, disagreement can lead to conflict, but it can also lead to strong, well-thought-out solutions.

Margaret Heffernan, a former CEO and speaker, suggests that we “dare to disagree … that we care enough to create conflict” … that we encourage people to challenge our own ideas and that through this process we come up with better results.

Here are 10 things to consider when you do decide to disagree at work:

  1. Don’t use hostile language. Use words that are calm and objective.
  2. Be sure you clearly understand the topic. You may not agree with something because you don’t have full understanding or information. Ask for clarification on certain points if you need it.
  3. Depersonalize by wording your disagreement so that the focus isn’t on the person you’re disagreeing with, but rather on what that person is saying.
  4. Don’t disagree with every point. You will be seen as more agreeable if you give in on smaller points.
  5. Neutralize by keeping your comments positive. Avoid using “always” and “never” in your statements. Consider starting your disagreement with, “I think we can agree that ….”
  6. Be respectful by using disarming words, such as, “I’ve noticed something different, probably because I have different experiences …” or “It seems we have different views. Could I explain where I am coming from?”
  7. Don’t use the phrase “I understand, but ….” This phrase has been misused so much, it means I don’t really care what you think. Instead, try, “I can see” or “I can tell.”
  8. Don’t use the phrase “I’m sorry” unless you’re actually apologizing for something.
  9. Don’t try to use your gut feeling as a reason for disagreeing.
  10. Package your disagreement with a solution.

You, and each employee in your organization, bring a unique set of experiences and knowledge to work each day. It’s those differences that can lead to the best and most creative solutions. But you have to be willing to disagree. You can’t be afraid of conflict. Raise your issues and concerns with care and respect.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.