How to Disagree With Your Coworkers Effectively

Colleagues having a positive disagreement discussion in the office, smiling.

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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.

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