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Top tips on how to disagree constructively

THERE IS nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone – as long as it is expressed constructively.

Effective teams use 'disagreeing' and 'supporting' verbal behaviours in equal amounts.

Working through disagreement can lead to greater understanding and better quality solutions.

However, some people default to showing their disagreement by ‘leaking’ emotionally; giving-off clear, non-verbal indications of discomfort. This can be seen, by others, as devious or downright rude.

Others can be unhelpfully vocal and label their disagreements. For example, ‘I disagree with that because…’ and then giving the reasons. This can be interpreted as an attack, leaving people stunned into silence, retreating or reacting immediately. There’s a dearth of listening and an absence of exploring the various arguments.

Between these two extremes lie four more constructive alternatives:

1> Stating reasons before disagreeing

2. Testing Understanding

3. Giving Feelings

4. Building.

Sharing your reasons for disagreeing before declaring your position gives people missing information and a context. This can be used as a basis for exploration and deeper understanding. For example, a colleague suggests that Ilie Nastase is in the all-time top three tennis greats. Rather than label your disagreement you might say: ‘You can judge greatness in a number of ways, for example: longevity, impact, talent. I don’t think Nastase matches up on all those counts, compared with Borg or McEnroe.’ This allows others to understand the basis for your position and a more fruitful discussion can follow.

Testing Understanding seeks to test an assumption or check whether a previous contribution has been understood. For example, Manager X says: ‘Nick has been a consistently high performer across all aspects of his work.’ Rather than directly disagree, Manager Y might say: ‘Does that include safety?’ Questioning invites all those present to reflect and consider the answer. It also drives up the level of clarity, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

The third option is Giving Feelings', for example, ‘I’m feeling uncomfortable that we’re focusing on just one option’ (versus ‘I disagree with your idea’.)

Finally, Building requires us to listen and demands that we let go of our own sense of ‘rightness’. If you disagree with an idea you can use Building to shape the suggestion in a slightly different direction. For instance:

Manager A: Can we focus the conference on breaking down silos?

Manager B: We could have representatives of each function in every break-out group as a way of addressing that in a practical way, which would allow us to broaden the theme.

Of the four alternatives, Building is the most skilful and the one likely to have the most positive impact.

Disagreeing can be a positive thing – if you build variety, using the four behaviours above, into your behavioural repertoire.

Ally Yates is author of ‘Utter confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world.






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