Career Planning Succeeding at Work How to Disagree Respectfully at Work By Susan M. Heathfield Susan M. Heathfield Facebook Twitter Website Susan Heathfield is an HR and management consultant with an MS degree. She has decades of experience writing about human resources. learn about our editorial policies Updated on December 6, 2022 Reviewed by Amy Soricelli In This Article View All In This Article Tips for Successful Disagreement Pick Your Battles Keep Your Disagreements Impersonal Listen to Your Coworker Stay Professional See Other Points of View Find a Common Goal Compromise When Necessary Employees Seek to Find Agreement Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Photo: 10'000 Hours / Getty Images Disagreements at work can happen, and they can be challenging. Whether you disagree with your coworker in the next cubicle or your boss at a meeting, disagreements should be done in a respectful, polite, and constructive manner. Here are some tips for how to disagree respectfully with a coworker but maintain a positive working relationship while getting your point across. Key Takeaways You can disagree with coworkers in a respectful manner and maintain a positive working relationship. Be professional, polite, and respectful, keeping the disagreement impersonal and your emotions intact.Practice reflective skills by listening to your coworker, seeing their point of view, and repeating back to them their main points. Find a shared outcome or common ground to make the disagreement less contentious. Compromise when necessary since you can disagree on some points and still achieve a general agreement on a solution. Tips for Successful Disagreement at Work You have no reason to attend the meeting or participate on the team if you are unwilling to discuss your opinions and agree or disagree with the opinions of your fellow attendees. 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? To maintain a positive, productive workplace culture, it's essential to understand how to disagree effectively, and here are some tips for how to respectfully disagree at work. Pick Your Battles If you disagree about everything, your coworkers will see you as argumentative and disagreeable. You’ll develop the reputation for always disagreeing, and your reasonable disagreement will be viewed as the same old, same old. So, pick areas that affect outcomes and that are substantial, meaningful, and important when you pursue disagreement. Note A healthy disagreement is one of the hallmarks of a successful team. When constructive discussion and disagreement are absent, and apathy is the norm, you have a dysfunctional team or meeting, which gets you nowhere. Keep Your Disagreements Impersonal To disagree respectfully at work, it's important to remember that you're not disagreeing with your coworker because there is something wrong with them or you don’t like them. Instead, you're disagreeing based on facts, experience, intuition, prior team successes and failures, your coworkers’ track record on similar projects, and your organization’s culture. Keep the discussion impersonal by not you-ing your colleague, as in “you just don’t understand the ramifications of what you’re suggesting.” Note It's best to focus on behavior and events rather than personalities. For example, instead of starting a complaint with "when you do this," you can instead start by saying "when this happens." You don’t want your emotions to affect your professionalism, argument, or data presentation. Above all, you don’t want your emotions to cause you to attack, name-call, or demean your coworkers. When speaking, at any point in a disagreement, stay calm. No personal attacks are allowed because your successful disagreement depends on it. Listen to Your Coworker Identify the components with which you agree and acknowledge that you can understand or see why she might feel the way she does. Open your disagreement by repeating what the other party said rather than launching into your areas of disagreement first. Help the person feel as if he was listened to, heard out, and understood. In other words, to effectively disagree, you must be able to look at the situation from your coworker’s functional point of view. The further up the organization’s hierarchy your job is, the more important it becomes to look at each issue from a total organizational view. Note You must be open to new ideas and different ways of approaching problems. Why is your way the best way when other ways to obtain the same, or even better result, exist? In organizations, employees who can think about optimizing for the whole organization and see the big picture are the people who are promoted. Stay Professional Be respectful of your coworkers. Disagreement can be cordial yet candid and effective. Don’t try to manipulate the situation as one former coworker might have done, such as playing the victim. Another might always be on the attack saving up ammunition to hit their coworkers with everything. Neither tactic would be successful, and your professional reputation will suffer. You can have a disagreement with coworkers without making them feel like what they value or think is wrong. Be sure to check your judgmental self at the door when you attend a meeting. Showing disrespect for a colleague’s ideas or position is inappropriate anywhere but especially at work. Making fun of them is even worse. Be careful of gentle teasing, too. Many of your coworkers were raised by mothers who taught them that “behind every bit of teasing is a grain of truth.” Asking questions to understand your coworker’s viewpoint is appropriate, but don't interrogate your coworker by throwing out an unending stream of questions to trip them up, confuse the issue, or make them look uninformed is not. It is also insulting and childish. See Other Points of View If you identify what is at stake in the issue, the problem solving, the recommendation, or the project, you are more likely to connect with your coworker to disagree successfully. Ask questions like these: What’s your real concern about the project?What’s bothering you about this current solution?What has to occur for you to comfortably support a solution?Are you comfortable with any aspects of my suggestion? Try to listen to understand your coworker's point of view. During an effective disagreement, both coworkers should be able to state the other party’s position on the issue. If you can’t, examine your listening skills. Reflective Skills Reflective skills represent the skills of feeding back or expressing to your coworker the essence of what you believe they said. For example, “John, I believe that your position is this ___.” That tells your colleague that you are listening to them. People waste a lot of time in arguments that could have been avoided if they just understood the other person’s position better. They argue over ostensible disagreements and details. Note Your coworker may also become distracted from the actual topic of the discussion as they pursue asking about who "we" is. Using the word we or any equivalent is unlikely to help with your disagreement. Speak Only for Yourself It is a serious mistake (and also bad for your credibility) to speak for anyone other than yourself. As tempted as you may find yourself to use phrases such as, "Everyone believes this." Don't. For example, in a small company, freelance writers interact on a forum. Members of the forum were regularly annoyed by one colleague who posted frequently. It took a while to figure out the problem with this particular person's posts, but her fatal action was that she consistently tried to speak for all of the freelancers. She used statements like, “We all feel this way.” “This is the change we’d all like to see.” When coworkers speak for others, they think that they are putting weight behind their thoughts, but it can backfire, making them angry. Or, in the case of a coworker, the individual might see it as a group of people ganging up on them. Find a Common Goal You want to know that the issues have been carefully discussed and thought about deeply. You want to make sure that your relationship with your colleague is intact. If you win, you also lose because your coworker lost. That loss will hang heavy in your relationship, and it will affect your ability to disagree in the future. It is also important that you and your coworker are clear about your areas of agreement and disagreement and find common interests and goals. Just as you started out the discussion by identifying what you and your coworker agree on, focus your discussion on shared interests and desired outcomes. If your coworker thinks that the two of you are headed in the same direction or have a shared outcome in mind, disagreement about how to get there is less scary and contentious. Compromise When Necessary You may not agree on everything, but don’t let that fact keep you from reaching a general agreement on a direction or a solution. In an organization, you can’t freeze in place and do nothing just because you haven’t found a perfect solution that all parties own. You will need to agree to disagree on aspects of the solution or problem-solving. Stating facts and bringing your experience, expertise, knowledge, and any data might support a direction to move your team forward. However, just because something was tried, and didn’t work in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t work this time. The current problem might be different with different players, and even the will to make the solution work may have changed. In a compromise, you need to make sure that the conceded items are ones that you can live with following the meeting. At the same time, you want to avoid consensus decision making in which the lowest common denominator determines the course of action. Consensus decision making can cause low-quality decisions and solutions as a team struggles to come up with a solution that is acceptable to all. Employees Seek to Find Agreement The majority of your coworkers want to reach an agreement on solutions and solve problems. They want to maintain positive relationships with their coworkers. They want to be thought of favorably, and they seek a seat on the list of good employees. The key to conflict and disagreement is that following all of the talking; all players must support and own the decisions reached. It is injurious to your organization to have employees pulling in different directions, second-guessing decisions, and sending mixed messages to coworkers and customers. This is not to suggest that you can’t relook at decisions as time and experience bring you more information. But to start, your job is to make the current decisions work. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) How do you politely disagree with someone at work? Be professional and respectful, keeping the disagreement impersonal. Listen to your coworker using reflective skills by expressing the essence of their main points. Find common ground or a shared outcome to make it less contentious. Compromise when needed. You can disagree on some points while achieving a general agreement on a direction or a solution. Is it OK to disagree with someone at work? It is ok to disagree with a coworker since disagreements are normal. When a disagreement is healthy and constructive, it can lead to personal growth and a successful team. However, if the discussion isn't constructive, it can lead to a dysfunctional team or meeting. Want to read more content like this? Sign up for The Balance’s newsletter for daily insights, analysis, and financial tips, all delivered straight to your inbox every morning! Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. University of California, San Diego. "How To Handle Conflict in the Workplace." Syracuse University. "Reflective Listening," Pages 1-3.