How to disagree successfully with colleagues

It may sound incongruous, but successful disagreements can be constructive
by Fred Heritage 


No matter how well individuals know and like each other, disagreements are sure to occur in teams working closely together.  

In fact, in some instances, disagreements can be considered a sign that a team is functioning well. Healthy disagreements, which tend to include constructive criticism and productive discussion, should result in positive outcomes, with decisions reached after everyone in the team feels like they’ve had their chance to input.

Get over your fear

It’s natural to feel scared of conflict but having successful disagreements in the workplace requires individuals to park their fears and start to view conflict in a different way, according to a Harvard Business Review article by Amy Gallo. “Don’t think of disagreement as unkind,” she writes. “Most people are open to hearing a different perspective if you share it thoughtfully and respectfully. She suggests trying to emulate someone who is comfortable with conflict.

Gallo explains that to reap the positive outcomes of well-managed disagreements with colleagues (such as better products, opportunities to learn and grow, and better relationships), individuals should let go of needing to be liked and focus instead on “respect, both giving it and earning it”.

The value of meetings

In an article for The Balance Careers, writer Susan Heathfield makes the point that meetings are good opportunities for constructive disagreements. She writes that meetings are for “discussion, decisions, and commitments”, adding, “If you don’t state your opinion, whether you agree or disagree, you are not part of the discussion.”

Heathfield challenges the reader to speak up, saying, “If you’re afraid to disagree with your boss, why does he or she need you? To do what you’re told? To work on tasks and action items? Or, to think, innovate, plan, and disagree?”

Tips for successfully disagreeing with colleagues

In an article for Forbes, members of the Young Entrepreneur Council explore the best strategies for tackling office disagreements and the methods that can help conversations between co-workers move forward productively. Here are five of their top tips:

Make them feel seen and heard
Empower people that you’re disagreeing with by making them feel seen and heard during conversation. This shows respect without implying agreement.  

Stay impersonal with facts
Focus on the facts, avoid personal comments, and say how the topic in question makes you feel. For example, say you’re uneasy about a proposed process because of the numbers shown to back it up.  

Avoid ‘absolute’ statements
Qualify what you say, with statements like “I take your point but this is how I see it, ”says Tyler Gallagher, chief executive of alternative assets firm Regal Assets. “In doing this, you make room for your colleague to change their mind. If you present whatever you're saying as an absolute fact, then you'll alienate your colleague who will likely become defensive and push back.”

Approach from a different viewpoint
Ask your colleague to put themselves in your shoes, describing the issues from your point of view. Then try evaluating both perspectives with this approach to see which will produce the best outcome.

Come back to it later
Pausing a conversation with your colleague and coming back to it later helps you both to gain perspective and gives you time to think about it rationally and look for compromises.

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Published: 05 Aug 2022
  • Soft Skills
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • meetings
  • culture
  • teamwork
  • Communications
  • Teams

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