Having good communication skills is essential in the workplace. And a key component of communication is knowing how to disagree with others.
Disagreeing can mean speaking up when you feel that a project is going in the wrong direction. Or challenging someone’s opinion because you believe that there are other valuable perspectives. Or listening to your gut to speak up and do the right thing.
But for many of us, disagreeing is a form of communication that we are uncomfortable with. We avoid speaking up at work because we’re afraid that expressing our thoughts will ruffle a few feathers or even make us look bad. We want people to like us, so we remain agreeable in order to avoid conflict.
There are a number of reasons, however, why disagreeing with others is actually a good thing. Let’s take a look at why it’s beneficial for you and your team to disagree.
You offer a different perspective. Maybe you’re afraid to disagree because you’re the most junior person in the room or you’re new to the team. But that just means you offer a fresh and valuable perspective. The senior people on your team are likely to have blindspots. You, however, can shed light on an important issue or problem.
You’ll raise everyone’s level. If everyone is always in agreement, then they’re not really bringing out the best in one another. Disagreement can lead to more fruitful and dynamic discussions. By challenging each other's thoughts, you’re challenging the status quo—and this leads to creative and innovative breakthroughs.
You’ll avoid problems. Maybe you think a project is going off track or you’re noticing red flags with a potential client. You could bite your tongue but then the problem might occur anyway and you’ll only have to deal with the mess later on. While you might feel bad about disagreeing, it could save your office time and energy in the long run.
You’ll build trust. While disagreement is often synonymous with dysfunction, a healthy amount of disagreement is a sign of good communication and trust. If people are agreeing all the time, then they’re masking their true feelings. And this can lead to bitterness and resentment. By allowing people to share their honest assessments, they will feel seen, heard, and valued.
If you consider yourself to be conflict-averse, don’t worry. Speaking up and disagreeing is a skill that can be learned. Below are tips and effective ways that you can learn how to disagree at work and feel confident in doing so.
Want to learn how to disagree? First, learn how to listen
Before you can make your case or offer an opposing view, you need to become a good listener.
But it’s actually very hard to be a good listener these days. In the Hello Monday podcast, champion debater Bo Seo says that we live in a “broadcast culture.”
We tweet our thoughts, we post comments, and we create content. Broadcasting our lives in this public manner doesn’t exactly make it conducive to listening, which makes it very difficult to disagree in a thoughtful way.
So, first things first, set yourself up for active listening. This means putting away your phone so that you’re not signaling to others that you’re disinterested. Interjecting when necessary to confirm and clarify what the speaker has said. And making sure that your body language is also conveying that you’re engaged in the conversation.
Take notes to help shape your argument
Note-taking isn’t just for studying. Taking notes during meetings can help you gather information, highlight important data points, and organize your thoughts. This is essential if you’re trying to disagree with someone and offer a counter opinion.
Note-taking is particularly helpful if you have trouble speaking off the cuff or feel nervous about public speaking. You can jot down bullet points and then glance at them while you’re speaking. These bullet points will help you stay on course and be succinct.
Another great thing about note-taking? You’re more likely to retain information when you write things down. You can also refer to your notes to jog your memory. This will help you feel more confident and prepared for future meetings. And the more confident and prepared you are, the more comfortable you will feel about disagreeing with others.
Understand who you’re talking to and prepare accordingly
Maybe you’re afraid to disagree with a boss or coworker because they tend to dominate the conversation and steamroll over others. Or maybe you’re concerned that your teammates will speak negatively about you for disagreeing with them. Or maybe you're nervous because your manager always pokes holes in whatever you have to say.
These are all valid concerns. No one wants to speak up and disagree if they’re only going to be silenced or feel badly about themselves afterwards.
As the saying goes: you can’t change other people, but you can change how you respond. By understanding your “audience” you can prepare yourself accordingly and set yourself up for great communication.
If they hog the conversation: Have a “script” ready to assert yourself in a delicate but firm way. For example, if a coworker interrupts, you can say: Actually, I still wanted to address X. Let’s quickly cover that and save comments for after.
If they are critical. Appoint a “cheerleader” in the room. This can be a coworker or team-member you trust. Tell them beforehand that you’re going to bring up X or Y in the meeting. Then, when you speak up, your cheerleader is there to vouch for you and amplify your voice. This can help build consensus in the room and get others to listen to you.
If they doubt and question you. Back up your argument with data. This is when your note-taking comes in handy! Gather your facts and figures and make your persuasive argument. Example: While I really like the hashtag marketing idea, I think our customers are more engaged when we do giveaways. Here is the data that shows a,b,c.Remember: your opinion is important. And a sign of a healthy and collaborative team is one that engages in productive disagreement. For more tips on navigating the workplace, check out our guide here.