How to express disagreement in corporate world

Disagreement is a natural part of life and essential for growth. Disagreeing can be challenging, especially in the workplace where there often are unspoken expectations that everyone will agree on everything all the time.

For some people, disagreement can feel like an attack or personal criticism. But an honest disagreement shouldn’t leave anyone feeling attacked or threatened.

When you work with someone who has a different opinion from yours, it’s a great opportunity to grow and learn from each other.

When others disagree with you, it doesn’t mean they think less of you, but rather that they see things differently and likely have good reason for doing so. Respecting their differing opinion can even help you both see things in a new way or discover something that hadn’t occurred to either of you before.

Start with a clear message and clear delivery

Before you actually say anything, take a moment to clarify your idea.

What do you want to say? What’s your main takeaway?

When you deliver your message with clarity, it’s easier for the other person to respond from the same place. They may not agree with you, but they’ll likely respect the clarity of your position.

Once you’ve clarified your message, do your best to deliver it in a way that shows respect for the other person. Be mindful of your tone, body language, and choice of words.

If you come across as argumentative or critical, you’ll likely only make the other person more defensive.

Use “I feel” statements

When you’re disagreeing with someone, they’re likely feeling defensive. You may have to walk on eggshells to avoid an argument. But you can open the door to a productive conversation by using “I feel” statements.

When you say, “You did X,” it puts the other person on the defensive. When you say, “I feel X,” it invites them to respond without being defensive.

For example, if a coworker takes a different approach to a task you’ve both been working on, you can say, “I feel like we should do this differently,” which invites the other person to respond with an open mind.

Don’t take it personally

Even if you’ve done your best to speak respectfully, the other person may react as if you’ve criticized them. Their response is about them, not you. If you take what they say personally, you’ll likely get defensive yourself and the conversation will get nowhere.

Instead, remind yourself that this person likely isn’t attacking you personally. The person may be feeling defensive because they don’t know how to respond to you without sounding critical themselves. If a person responds defensively, try to avoid getting sucked into a battle.

Have empathy for the other person

When you ask yourself, “Why would they say that?” you can often understand where the other person is coming from. Even if you think the other person is wrong, understanding their point of view helps you respond in a way that promotes understanding rather than conflict.

Imagine you and a coworker are discussing how best to approach a task. You both have different ideas of what the best way to proceed is, and you both want to work together.

For example, if you approach your coworker with a, “You’re wrong,” you’ll likely close the door to any further conversation. Instead, you can ask yourself, “Why would they think this is the best way?” and then share your own idea.

Conclude with an action step

Even if you and the other person reach a mutual understanding, you don’t want the conversation to end there.

You and the other person both have a choice to either build on what you’ve discussed or let it go. If you want to continue growing from this experience, you can conclude the conversation with an action step.

For example, if you and a coworker discuss a different approach to a task, you can say, “Let’s try this out and see what happens.”

This last step helps the two of you move from a theoretical discussion to an actual test of the new idea. It’s also a great way to build trust and strengthen the relationship between you and the other person.

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