How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

What a world it would be if we all agreed on absolutely everything. But, as you already know, that’s just not reality.

We all have our own thoughts, opinions, and values — which means disagreements can be pretty common, especially in the workplace.

However, there’s a big difference between just disagreeing and disagreeing respectfully. The first will likely cause hurt feelings and only add fuel to an already tense fire. But, the second? That approach can lead to new ideas and a much more productive discussion.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get so wrapped up in your own beliefs that all common courtesy goes straight out the window. So, as a friendly reminder, here are six key tips for disagreeing with someone — respectfully, of course.

1. Focus on Facts

A strong argument is one that uses facts over opinion. But, that can be difficult to remember when you’re in the middle of a disagreement.

However, a respectful — not to mention compelling — disagreement is one that prioritizes logic over your emotions about the situation. So, don’t forget to place your emphasis on the reasoning and information supporting your disagreement.

Not only will that make you much more convincing, but it’ll also make it clear that this isn’t personal.

2. Don’t Get Personal

Speaking of getting personal, it’s something you want to avoid at all costs when disagreeing with someone — particularly in a professional setting.

Obviously, that means you shouldn’t put down the other person or attack his or her ideas and beliefs. That’s not at all helpful or productive.

Instead, focus on illustrating why you feel the way you do. Remember, your goal is to effectively present your ideas — not to just poke holes in the other person’s.

3. Recognize the Good

Yes, you’re disagreeing with this person. But, rarely is a suggestion so bad that you can’t find a single nugget of wisdom hidden in there somewhere.

Before launching right in with your argument, it’s best if you can preface it with something that you like about that person’s original suggestion — and then use that as a launching point for your own idea.

For example, something like, “I definitely think you’re on the right track in saying that we need to improve our customer response time. But, what if we did it this way instead?” shares your idea in a way that’s friendly and collaborative — and not at all accusatory.

4. Remember to Listen

There’s a trap that’s all too easy to fall into when you find yourself in the middle of a disagreement: Rather than actively listening, you’re just sitting there waiting for your chance to respond.

Unfortunately, conversations where you’re completely tuning the other person out are never productive. So, remember to actually listen to the points your conversational partner is presenting. You might be surprised — you could end up finding an even better solution that way.

5. Use “I” Statements

Which one of the following statements sounds more harsh and critical?

“You always come up with these big ideas so close to the deadline that you only make things harder for everybody.”

“I see where you’re coming from, but I’m concerned we might be getting too close to the deadline for major changes.”

Chances are, the first one made you recoil just a little bit. This example is an adequate representation of why it’s best to use “I” statements when disagreeing with someone. It’s just another subtle way to illustrate that your disagreement isn’t a personal attack.

No, effectively disagreeing isn’t all about sugarcoating what you’re trying to say. But, making even this small effort to soften your language can make a big difference in how your message is received.

6. Know When to Move On

That cliché catchphrase “agree to disagree” is oft-repeated for a reason: It can be a handy sentiment to lean on when you need it.

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of respectfully disagreeing with someone is knowing when you need to just call it quits and move on.

No, it’s not always easy to swallow your pride and walk away — particularly when you feel strongly about your side. But, sometimes it’s the best thing you can do.

Disagreements are inevitable. But, there’s definitely a wrong way and a right way to present your own arguments.

Implement these six key tips, and you’ll be able to disagree in a way that’s effective, professional, and always respectful.

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

It happens all the time—you and someone you know disagree about something more important than who has the best curry in town, and you need to hash it out. Whether it’s a peer, your boss, your landlord, or your kid’s teacher, you want to err on the side of delicacy and professionalism.

So how do you do that in a way that’s respectful—and ultimately productive? You want to make your perspective clear, confident, and compelling without anyone feeling attacked or at cross purposes. Below, we’ll suggest a few handy phrases and strategies to help you disagree respectfully.

Is this the place?

Occasionally, the best way to respectfully disagree isn’t in writing at all. A live conversation may be a better way to ask and answer questions, exchange thoughts, and build consensus. Consider this before getting carried away with a long draft enumerating your righteous points.

It may even turn out what seemed like a disagreement was more of a misunderstanding. Phew.

Keep it tight; empathize

Suppose your landlord emails to say while they’d hoped to upgrade your kitchen windows next month, it’s now looking more likely the month after. You could detail your displeasure in a three-page tirade, but that sounds exhausting and may make you seem irrational. One or two sentences should suffice:

“Thanks for the update, Daryl. That’s later than we’d hoped, and I don’t imagine having this process drag on is any fun for you, either.”

Note how that last part acknowledges Daryl has feelings and a point of view in this, too. This shows respect and is key to resolving your disagreement—as is this next item.

Politely disagreeing with a coworker via email? 🧐

Ask questions; empathize some more

Questions can politely point to what you want without seeming unduly demanding or unkind. Picking up where we left off with your landlord above, you might next ask this:

“Is there any way to expedite the installation? If not, could we negotiate a reduction to our rent or our portion of the heating bill in the meantime, since our kitchen is so drafty?”

Questions also keep the conversation moving forward and show you value the other person’s input. And if you’re worried the many questions you’re asking will become annoying, a concise way to acknowledge as much is, “Not to belabor this, but…” (That said, do try to read the vibe and avoid belaboring anything you don’t have to.)

Leave the snark in your drafts folder

If, moments after receiving a note you disagree with, you feel the urge to send back a one-word response like “Interesting,” just don’t. Instead, stand up, drink some water, and go for a walk around the block. Think about your ideal outcome and how best to get there, while keeping in mind that acting impulsively probably won’t win anyone over.

Alas, not every disagreement is going to end favorably for you. Grammarly can improve your odds by catching avoidable missteps—including coming off the wrong way to your reader. Grammarly’s tone detector can help make sure your writing hits just the right notes.

Seven strange secrets to showing maximum respect.

Posted Dec 13, 2012

“You’re being disrespectful!” is an arresting accusation made as though you should never be disrespectful, as though everyone always deserves total respect. Being respectful is treated as synonymous with being nice, disrespectful as with sinning.

And yet none of us can or should respect everything and everybody equally. To do so would be to surrender our powers of discernment, of evaluating the quality of one person’s views and actions as cleaner or better than another’s.

To accuse someone of being disrespectful is itself an act of such discernment, judging one person more inappropriate than others. We can’t live by the watchwords “criticize critical people” without being hypocritical. After all, in criticizing the critical we ourselves are being critical.

Some say the way out is to disrespect ideas and actions but not people, and yet, as you may have noticed, we can’t draw a clean line between people and their behavior, at least not one they’ll regard as clean. Snubbing my thoughts and actions could easily snub me. When the citizens of Syria voice their opposition to Bashar a-Assad, their president for using Scud missiles against them, he’ll feel personally snubbed, disrespected as a person, and well he should. The extreme proves the problem. A pure ban on disrespect is unworkable. We need a different approach to disrespect. Disrespect is not the sin it’s made out to be.

I reserve for me and everyone else our powers of discernment, the right to employ the full spectrum from the highest respect to the lowest, from honoring a person as inherently credible, to taking their word and actions with a grain of salt, to monitoring them skeptically, to doubting them outright, to ignoring them, to fighting them, to fighting them to the death as I think befits Assad, the ultimate show of disrespect.

Still, like everyone I prefer being respected to being disrespected and so, doing unto others, I want to show as much respect as possible, to live and let live to the extent I can. For that I have seven rules.

1. Don’t ever say, “That’s disrespectful” as though disrespect were a sin: Using that tried and untrue way to shut people down is hypocritical and cheating. Admit that disrespect is necessary and inevitable rather than holding the double standard whereby your disrespect is just discernment, and other people’s is simply sinful.

2. Don’t let your taste buds be the Supreme Court: We’re born discerning, grimacing disrespectfully at everything bitter. But some of what’s bitter turns out to be better than it tastes, so we should get beyond condemning everything that doesn’t immediately appeal to us. Cultivate careful powers of discernment, reasons why you disrespect what you do, reasons that surpass a baby’s whiny “I don’t like it!”

3. Swap shoes: Before you do any serious disrespecting put yourself snugly in the shoes of the person you disrespect. Be fluently capable of making the best case possible for their position as though you were their talented lawyer and advocate. See things from their side. Live by the tautological watchwords “If I were you, I’d be doing exactly what you’re doing.”

4. Localize the problem as much as possible: If it’s what they’re saying, say that you disrespect that and only that. If it’s what they do over and over, disrespect that and only that. Still, don’t assume that you can draw that clean line. They may be hurt and offended to their core even if you just show disrespect for a corner of their behavior.

5. Walk away if you can: The saying, “Don’t fight with a pig, you’ll just get dirty and the pig likes it,” is a great reminder that if you can walk away, you should. Walking away from someone you disrespect is often the most respectful way to show your disrespect, not that it will necessarily be taken that way. And remember that sometimes you can’t walk away. The poor citizens of Syria can’t. Sometimes you’re stuck, morally obligated to fight with a pig even though you’ll just get dirty and the pig likes it.

6. Recognize that disrespect is double-edged: Not conveying your disrespect can be as disrespectful as conveying it. When you humor people, you’re disrespectfully treating them as incapable of handling your disrespect. When you convey your disrespect, you’re honoring their capacity to live and learn from feedback. Saying or not saying what you think can be taken as both disrespectful and respectful, as is evident in the way people put us in a double bind demanding that we respect them by being honest with them, and yet also demanding that we respect them by being diplomatic with them. Respect their ambivalence and face into the tough judgment call we all have to make, truth or care, should you speak your truth or just express care by shutting up.

7. Wear your self-confidence like a Hazmat suit: Ironically, the more self-certain you are, the more respectful you’ll be. Free from fear that other people’s beliefs will contaminate you, you don’t have to hose them down anxiously before their disease infects you. Conversely, the more you fear that their beliefs will rub off on you, the more urgently you’ll need to purge the air of them, an urgency they can easily interpreted as aggression.

In sum, if you cultivate careful powers of discernment, stop feeling like it’s sinful to have those powers, face into the challenge of figuring out when to speak your mind and when to bite your lip, and calmly hold your cultivated opinions as not easily perturbed, you’ll be able to show disrespect as respectfully as humanly possible.

Grant me the sharp tongue to express my disrespect when it will prove helpful, the bit lip to keep my disrespect to myself when it will prove harmful, and the wisdom to know the difference.

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

It happens all the time—you and someone you know disagree about something more important than who has the best curry in town, and you need to hash it out. Whether it’s a peer, your boss, your landlord, or your kid’s teacher, you want to err on the side of delicacy and professionalism.

So how do you do that in a way that’s respectful—and ultimately productive? You want to make your perspective clear, confident, and compelling without anyone feeling attacked or at cross purposes. Below, we’ll suggest a few handy phrases and strategies to help you disagree respectfully.

Is this the place?

Occasionally, the best way to respectfully disagree isn’t in writing at all. A live conversation may be a better way to ask and answer questions, exchange thoughts, and build consensus. Consider this before getting carried away with a long draft enumerating your righteous points.

It may even turn out what seemed like a disagreement was more of a misunderstanding. Phew.

Keep it tight; empathize

Suppose your landlord emails to say while they’d hoped to upgrade your kitchen windows next month, it’s now looking more likely the month after. You could detail your displeasure in a three-page tirade, but that sounds exhausting and may make you seem irrational. One or two sentences should suffice:

“Thanks for the update, Daryl. That’s later than we’d hoped, and I don’t imagine having this process drag on is any fun for you, either.”

Note how that last part acknowledges Daryl has feelings and a point of view in this, too. This shows respect and is key to resolving your disagreement—as is this next item.

Politely disagreeing with a coworker via email? 🧐

Ask questions; empathize some more

Questions can politely point to what you want without seeming unduly demanding or unkind. Picking up where we left off with your landlord above, you might next ask this:

“Is there any way to expedite the installation? If not, could we negotiate a reduction to our rent or our portion of the heating bill in the meantime, since our kitchen is so drafty?”

Questions also keep the conversation moving forward and show you value the other person’s input. And if you’re worried the many questions you’re asking will become annoying, a concise way to acknowledge as much is, “Not to belabor this, but…” (That said, do try to read the vibe and avoid belaboring anything you don’t have to.)

Leave the snark in your drafts folder

If, moments after receiving a note you disagree with, you feel the urge to send back a one-word response like “Interesting,” just don’t. Instead, stand up, drink some water, and go for a walk around the block. Think about your ideal outcome and how best to get there, while keeping in mind that acting impulsively probably won’t win anyone over.

Alas, not every disagreement is going to end favorably for you. Grammarly can improve your odds by catching avoidable missteps—including coming off the wrong way to your reader. Grammarly’s tone detector can help make sure your writing hits just the right notes.

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

Dreet Production/Getty Images

Do you know how to disagree—effectively—with your colleagues, bosses, and coworkers? If so, you have an unusual skill, and you practice professional courage that few people in organizations exhibit. The most effective teams and organizations regularly disagree about ideas, goals, strategies, and implementation steps.

People inside of organizations are afraid to provoke conflict, and they don’t want to get into an argument or disagreement that they can’t manage. They fear public humiliation, damaging their professional brand in the eyes of the organization, being proven wrong, and rejection by their colleagues.

It means that people who run organizations or departments, teams, or work groups mostly fail to get the best out of the people they hire and employ.

Create a Culture that Honors Differences

You need to create a culture that honors differences of opinion and varying points of view. People who feel rewarded and recognized for healthy disagreement are likely to disagree again.

This environment must also provide safety for the employee who disagrees. It means that managers and meeting leaders need to know how to mediate conflicts. And, employees need to know how to participate effectively in disagreements.

How, asks Margaret Heffernan, author and former CEO of five businesses, in her TED Talk, “do we get good at conflict?” She says that becoming good at conflict allows people to become creative and to solve problems. She asks, how do you begin to have conversations more easily and more often in organizations and make healthy disagreement a norm?

In the example she used, a manager became more afraid of the damage that the silence on the management team was causing. He became more afraid of the silence then he was of disagreement. He determined to get better at disagreement, and he changed his approach. With commitment and practice, you can change the dynamics of your team.

5 Tips on Developing a Culture That Encourages Disagreement

Earlier articles have talked about how to create a work culture and environment in which disagreement and conflict will become a healthy norm. They include steps such as:

  • Set clear expectations that conflict and disagreement are expected, respected, publicly recognized, and rewarded.
  • If you are the leader of a team or department, examine whether you might be inadvertently discouraging disagreement by your words or actions. If they are incongruent with your stated expectations, you are stifling disagreement.
  • Ask your team to add respectful disagreement to the group’s norms.
  • Make sure that executive compensation and other employee bonuses and profit sharing are tied to the success of the company as a whole and not to individual departments.
  • Hire employees who appear to have skills in healthy disagreement and conflict resolution. You want people who can solve problems and problems are rarely solved without disagreement.

Disagree With a Colleague

While employees disagree in a variety of ways and settings, most frequently disagreement occurs during a meeting—of two employees or many. You can also disagree by email, IM, phone, Skype, and more today. But, disagreements are better in person as is most communication.

The professionalism of your approach to disagreement is critical. A colleague who feels listened to, respected, and acknowledged is the outcome of a positive disagreement.

  • When you disagree starting with acknowledging the strengths of your colleague’s position, you start out on solid ground.
  • Start out, also, with the points that you and your colleague agree about and build your case for the differences between your areas of agreement.
  • No matter your job or department, when you disagree with a co-worker, you need to step away from your vested interests to understand his. The chances are that he feels as passionately about his approach as you do about yours.

When you think about how to disagree, recognize that you will still work with this coworker every day. A compromise might be the answer. So might acknowledging that there are certain points that you will never agree on, so you may need to agree to disagree.

Ask yourself, even if they are important points, are they worth sabotaging an overall solution? Normally—they’re not. A point comes when the organization needs to move forward—even with an imperfect solution.

Once you agree on a solution, approach, or action plan, the key to organizational success is that the team or meeting members need to move past their need to disagree and support the final decision. It means exerting whole-hearted commitment to making an effort succeed. Anything else sabotages the success of your organization.

Both casual conversations and debates require hearing a lot of arguments and statements you fundamentally do not agree with. To become better at reacting to these statements, you need to learn how to properly voice your disagreement.

Knowing how to say I disagree in a polite manner gives you the room to take the lead position in the conversation and gain the respect of others. Here are 20 creative ways to say, ‘I disagree’.

The most important things you need to know when voicing disagreement

Stating that you don’t agree might earn you more respect from your peers, but it’s all in the way you express it. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to cross the line and say something you shouldn’t have.

Abide by these tips to help you express your opinion soundly. It will be easier to apply any of the templates we’ve provided below.

01 Be ready for a longer debate. Don’t rush into an argument without knowing why you disagree with something.

Your interlocutor might want to know more.

02 Don’t use any ad hominem remarks. No matter how angry or disappointed you are, you should never cross the line with personal insults.

Construct rock solid arguments and express your opinion maturely, based on fact.

03 Wait until the person is done talking. Sometimes, during a meeting or an argument, we get caught up and hear one key phrase that we react to impulsively, without hearing the person out.

Always wait for the speaker to finish. It shows respect and patience, both important qualities in any facet of life.

04 Don’t feel pressure to respond as soon as possible. Wait it out a bit.

See how the conversation goes and whether you’ll be able to reinforce your arguments later. You don’t need to hurry.

8 phrases to say I disagree when talking to your boss (during a meeting)

01 “Although I do like your solution, the idea might be even more effective with a few additions…”

Depending on your boss, you need to be a little less harsh. Suggest their original idea is very clever but propose alternatives in the form of “additions”.

02 “While I see your point, that isn’t quite what I am going for…”

Emphasize that you understood what they’re saying and explain your disagreement.

03 “Mr. Jackson, I would like to propose a solution that fuses your initial idea with all the other data we have.”

Let them know you’re using their idea as a basis for yours, that was you say I disagree but come off as flattering.

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04 “May I add something? By looking at your observations, I can’t help but think the idea would be more effective if…”

Mask your disagreements by making them seem as suggestions for improvements on an already great idea/observation.

05 “Mrs. Peterson, I fully understand where you’re going, but I have a feeling that there might be another option on the table.”

Being honest can work too, but only if you reinforce your suggestion with arguments and parallels between the original idea and the one thought up by your boss.

06 “That’s an amazing plan, but I have a feeling that there are certain points where it may not be viable.”

Bosses may not like you saying publicly, I disagree. Make sure you immediately give ideas for improvement.

07 “Excuse me, can I add a few things to your idea? It’s just that your plan inspired me, and I think these additions could work.”

Asking them for permission is extremely smart and flattering. Use their ideas as food for thought and come up with something better.

08 “What if we took [idea element] from your idea and combine it with [other solution] to get optimal results? I really think it could work.”

Combining solutions will leave such a lasting impression that your boss won’t realize you’re saying I disagree.

8 ways to disagree with your co-workers (during a meeting)

09 “I think your intentions are good, but it seems like you’re going in a different direction. How about…”

Propose a better solution and explain how you think they could improve a certain idea.

10 “I can see where you got the inspiration from. However, I don’t think I fully agree with your suggestion.”

Let them know you’re listening and that you’re interested. That lays the groundwork for saying I disagree.

11 “It’s an excellent idea and I can see it succeeding, but you might want to reconsider [alternative solution] or [another alternative solution].”

We can surely combine it to [accomplish task].

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

Your co-worker complains that your loud phone calls are distracting him, and you fire back that he’s always late to meetings. Or you try to tell your boss the new system she’s implemented is inefficient, but find yourself talking in circles. Or maybe your team has been at odds for weeks about how to tackle an assignment, and now you’re about to miss the deadline.

If any of that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by data scientist Noah Zandan, half of all Americans have at least one serious argument per month. What’s more, 83% of Americans believe arguing’s inevitable in close relationships, and 25% get into at least one disagreement every day.

Considering the average American spends more than 40 hours each week at work, it follows that many of these arguments would be happening in the office.

When disagreements with co-workers go bad, they leave you frustrated and humiliated. At their worst, they could even cost you your jobs. The good news is, they don’t have to.

Because it’s not inevitable that a difference in opinion will lead to a destructive clash. In fact, it can do the opposite and start thoughtful discussions that’ll improve relationships, strengthen reputations, and enhance the status quo.

So, how can you keep them from turning nasty? To find out, Zandan and his team began with research on communication science and argument diffusion. Then, to watch those theories play out in real life, they conducted a linguistic analysis of over 100 pages of FBI crisis negotiations, chosen to demonstrate the language a trained professional uses to resolve conflict in a high-stakes environment.

From this research, the team discovered three ways to make sure workplace disagreements don’t escalate into destructive territory.

1. Know Your Audience and Mirror Their Language

When you’re trying to persuade someone, knowing your audience will allow you to present your case in the way that’s most likely to resonate.

Executive Communication Coach Briar Goldberg recommends that you think about how the other person operates. To be clear, this doesn’t mean using the same aggressive language or sharp tone—it simply means recognizing the other person’s personality and state of mind. For example, if your boss is a very logical person, arm yourself with data and figures to support your statement:

“It takes three hours longer to build a report under this new system, but the output is effectively the same.”

On the other hand, if your boss tends to be emotionally driven, you might get further with feelings:

“I’m concerned this system is making us less efficient and I’m worried that it might start to impact our client relationships.”

The same is true on the other side. When a co-worker begins a heated discussion with a list of data points and statistics, emotional responses will get you nowhere, and when the person who started the argument is clearly upset or emotional, logic is your least productive option.

Quantified Communications’ analysis found that in hyper-volatile situations, negotiators use 1.5 times more validating language (think: “I know you’re angry, and that’s OK” ) than negating language.

Goldberg says this tactic—understanding your opponent’s mindset and responding from the same place—is critical to deescalating an argument and getting everybody on the same page.

2. Choose Your Pronouns Wisely

The negotiators in QC’s analysis used 33.5% more “I” and “we” than “you” language, and that pattern is no coincidence.

Imagine this scenario: Your manager tells you the assignment you just turned in missed the mark. When you respond, you have three options:

“You Told Me to Do it That Way”

In laying blame, you put your manager on the defensive, which makes you look bad.

“I’ll Fix it Right Away”

University of Texas social psychologist James Pennebaker has performed extensive research on the use of pronouns in countless settings, finding over and over that, by using personal pronouns to take accountability for our messages, we can increase our trustworthiness, credibility, and influence with our audiences. Chances are good you’ll earn your manager’s respect by accepting his criticism.

“I Want to Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen Again. For Future Projects, Could We Sit Down Together to Make Sure I Understand Your Expectations Before I Start Executing?”

The authors of the Harvard Negotiation Project’s Difficult Conversations call this “the language of request” and, according to Goldberg, this combination of “I” and “we” will go a long way in shifting the conversation from criticism to collaboration.

By owning up to the mistake and asking your manager to help, you ensure it doesn’t happen again—meaning you’ve earned respect, opened a dialogue, and made a plan to get the support you need next time.

So, when in doubt, avoid the first option at all costs and aim to nail down the third. However, if you land in the middle (using “I”), you’ll still be in a good place.

3. Break the Negativity Spiral With Positive Language

We all know how difficult it can be to keep a positive outlook when you’ve been bickering for hours about the right way to solve a problem. But, according to University of Texas communications professor Angela Vangelisti, positivity is key. In any interpersonal communication setting, we mirror each other’s tone, mood, and body language. Negativity will breed more negativity, but positivity is equally contagious.

The FBI personnel in QC’s analysis used 1.7x as much positive language as negative.

Often, this tactic is the best way to get to the other side of an argument. Point out something that’s worked well in the past, or recall the benefits of delivering a stellar project—whether it’s the financial payout, impressing the boss, or simply getting that weight off your shoulders.

“I know this is a tough presentation, but we could bring in a lot of new clients if we get it right. Last time, Jim drafted the initial outline and Ellen and I were in charge of visuals. That worked really well, and I think we can knock it out of the park if we divide and conquer again.”

No matter how well you typically get along with your co-workers, the sheer number of hours we spend at work means clashes are inevitable.

Dale Carnegie, in the old-school gold standard of relationship building, insists the only way to win an argument is to avoid it. You can have victory or goodwill, he says, but not both. In many cases, he’s right, but workplace disagreements don’t have to become showdowns. By practicing these three techniques, you can stop the blowouts before they happen, keeping heated conversations cool and productive.

Disagreements are inevitable. So what should we do? Keep our mouths shut or say what we think? And if we speak up, what should we say? Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, has the answers.

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work

Let’s say you’re talking to a colleague or friend. She says something you disagree with. Sometimes, if the situation is casual and the subject is trivial, disagreeing isn’t an issue. It can be done casually and all is well. But what if it’s important, and what if the person could take offense? This can be tricky, and takes some tact.

First, you have to decide if the subject is worth disagreeing about. What if you just kept quiet? What would be the consequences of your silence? What would be the consequences of disagreeing? Sometimes it’s really not worth it. Just let it go.

But if you’ve decided you should say something, there are a few techniques I can share. Most important, though, regardless of the technique, is tone of voice. You must take extra care to keep all sarcasm, anger, or frustration out of your tone. That’s really hard sometimes. But having a good frame of mind can help.

How you should think about the other person

I’ve written about this many times, for instance, in How to Be More Diplomatic, How to Handle Criticism, and How to Have a Difficult Conversation. In order to have a good frame of mind and control your tone of voice, foster a sense of sincere curiosity, trying to see things from the perspective of the other person. Think positive thoughts about your conversation partner, assuming they have the best intentions. Or sometimes if a person uses a rude tone, I try to think, “Maybe she has a headache,” or “Perhaps he’s having a bad day.” This helps me quickly cool down. With these sincere and positive thoughts, you can now disagree with a respectful and sincere tone of voice. But you still have to be very careful with your word choice.

Think positive thoughts about your conversation partner, assuming they have the best intentions.

Disagree generally or indirectly

You can try some indirect or general phrases. These encourage the person to think through or at least explain his or her position more fully. Then you can have a broader and hopefully productive conversation. Try phrases like, “Interesting. Really?” “Are you sure that’s possible?” or “Really? I wonder if it works like that.”

You can phrase the disagreement indirectly. My dad used to tell me, “Just because it’s ‘up’ doesn’t mean you need to say that. You can always just say, ‘It’s not ‘down’!’” So you can try, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” (not “It’s a horrible idea!”) or “I’m not sure I can agree” (NOT “I totally disagree with you!”). Or even the words that I learned from my father: “I find it hard to believe that.”

Check out “How to End a Conversation Politely” for tips on closing out a conversation.

Use softer words to disagree

Choose words that soften the blow. Instead of “I don’t get what you’re saying,” try “I don’t quite get what you mean.” And don’t say, “You don’t understand.” Try instead, “Perhaps I’m not explaining myself well enough” or “Can you tell me why you think that way?”

Choose words that soften the blow.

This last one is a great example of not pointing the finger at the other person. Instead of you words, which accuse, try I or we words, which include and soften. “You need to get this done now” is harsh. “We’re looking for a nearer completion date. How can we work to get that?” respects everyone’s needs.

Disagree by finding common ground

In most disagreements, there is generally common ground where you can start. So begin by highlighting what you share, then build up from there.

“While I agree with you on , have you considered ?” Notice this also includes choosing softer words.

“I understand saying about X. On this other point about X, I think. ”

Don’t use blunt language! Read “How Being Blunt Can Hurt Your Personal Life” for more guidance around gentle conversations.

Words not to use when you disagree

There are some things, however, you should avoid saying.

Don’t say you’re sorry! The word sorry is seriously overused, especially by women. Only use it when you’ve done something to hurt another person. Many people will say, “Sorry, I disagree.” You’re not sorry—or you shouldn’t be. Recognize that your opinion has value, so own it and respect yourself.

Don’t say “but…” This is another one that’s used all the time: “Yes, but…” or “I agree up to a point, but…” When you say but you’ve just negated everything you said before. You’ve just admitted to common ground, or you’ve just given the person a complement, then you’re taking it back by saying “but.” However is a similar word and should be used sparingly, but is less jarring than but.

Try to become comfortable using all these approaches. Diplomatic disagreement is a great way to “win friends and influence people,” and will help you in business and in life.

This is Lisa B. Marshall changing organizations, changing lives, and changing the world through better communication. If you’d like to learn more about leadership, influence, and communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.

“I don’t want to be rude, but … ”

“Don’t take this personally … ”

Is it obvious what might come next?

Despite good intentions, these commonly-used phrases may lead to offense. Whether it’s a conversation with a family member or a friend, a classmate or a co-worker, everyone has varying opinions and beliefs.

Is there a good way to disagree with someone while still being respectful of their thoughts and opinions?

BYU persuasive writing professor Erin Blackmun teaches her students that sharing their opinions with each other is an opportunity to be enlightened. Blackmun, along with former vice president of the BYU Speech and Debate Club Benjamin Braden and Better Angels coordinator Erika Munson, shared ideas on how to respectfully disagree during a conversation or an argument, whether with a friend or foe.

Have a well-researched opinion

“The best way to express an opinion is to have one,” Blackmun said.

Braden suggested the importance of researching topics and understanding both sides before arguing an opinion.

“One of the biggest issues I see with people is they establish an opinion without any research,” Braden said. “If people are more informed and actually research topics more and understand what went into it, they’d have a better understanding of both sides and not be as contentious in the issues, rather than just attacking their opponent.”

Agree to disagree

An article from the American Psychological Association suggests the importance of agreeing to disagree.

“Having conversations, specifically on sensitive topics, will not always be easy going. Recognize that you may not be able to change their viewpoints. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best,” it says.

Blackmun concurred. “Oftentimes, those ideas are different, and we don’t have to agree,” she said.

Braden also noted the importance of realizing most people won’t change their opinion because of a single conversation. Before reaffirming one’s own position, Braden suggested one should reiterate what the other said first, then point out that there’s another side to it.

“Try to come to a mutual understanding first, then you can expound on your points without sounding aggressive,” he said.

How to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at workBetter Angels uses this chart to help people recognize where they land when arguing with people either in-person or online. (Better Angels)

Treat an argument as an ‘exchange of ideas’

Blackmun said she discusses the meaning of an argument with her students. She said “argument” often has a connotation of involving contention and disagreement, but it should be portrayed as an exchange of ideas.

“Contentment doesn’t ever solve anything,” she said.

Blackmun said that when people have conversations about controversial topics, like abortion, politics, same-sex marriage or immigration, people tend to come in being defensive from the start, thinking they have to defend their stance. But Blackmun said she doesn’t think an argument has to be like that when people think of it more in terms of the “exchange of ideas.”

Blackmun, Braden and Munson capitalized on three main points to treat an argument as an “exchange of ideas.”

Listen

It may be intimidating for some to share their opinions — they may fear how the other person might react. Blackmun said it’s normal to feel this way, especially walking into a conversation with somebody they don’t know — but it’s the delivery that makes all the difference.

“I think so much has to do with the way that we receive them,” she said. “Oftentimes in a conversation, it’s better to listen first, especially when you don’t have that prior relationship and when you’re not sure what the reaction is going to be.”

Blackmun frequently holds debates in her classes to help her students learn how to express their opinions. She said it’s an eye-opening experience to help them see why they have the opinions they do and where those opinions came from.

“I think that as teachers, even as parents, it’s more beneficial for us to help our people to see why they feel the way that they do instead of asking them to adopt the opinions that we have,” she said.

Ask questions and speak in “I” statements

Munson works as the Utah State Coordinator for Better Angels, an organization largely made up of volunteers. The organization is based in New York and it teaches people to talk about politics in a productive and respectful way. Better Angels hosts workshops around the nation to facilitate positive discussions between Democrats and Republicans.

When trying to respectfully disagree, Munson suggested asking reflective questions, such as, “Can you tell me what you mean when you say … ” and, “Is it possible for you to say more about … ?”

“Be curious and interested in their experience,” she said. “That leads to the kinds of questions that people will welcome.”

Munson noted that it’s easier to not be as respectful online since “our natural breaks tend to be off because we’re not seeing how the person is reacting personally.” But she said the same principles of respectfully disagreeing in-person, like being curious and asking questions, can also be applied online.

“If somebody has a rant about this or that, first say, ‘I don’t agree with you, and I’d like to ask some questions about this. Would you be open to that?’ and then see what they say,” Munson said. “And then ask your question and see what the answer is. And if that person isn’t up for civil conversation, I say go away. I say go and find a human (in-person) and have a conversation that way. But it’s totally worth it to keep trying.”

Munson also encouraged speaking in “I” statements instead of general statements.

“Phrases like, ‘Everybody knows,’ and, ‘You don’t want to,’ can feel preachy and make others defensive. By speaking in the first person, ‘I feel,’ ‘In my experience,’ you are speaking for yourself and not assuming anything about anyone else,” she said.

Show respect through body language

Braden said what is said matters, but even more important is showing one is paying attention through body language.

Poor body language like rolling eyes can show one is not open to an actual discussion, but rather just trying to dominate it.

“We all get caught in this trap where we’re so anxious to prove our own point that we completely ignore and don’t acknowledge the valid points others have,” he said. “I think the best way to show respect is to understand that everyone does have valid points, that although you may disagree with them, from their perspective, what they’re saying is true and has merits.”