Make New Friends: Why it’s so hard, yet so important

If you’ve been to a doctor recently, they may have asked you about your social connections. That’s because they know how important it is for your mental, emotional and physical health.

Research shows that strong social ties can boost your immune system, decrease the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and reduce the impact of stress and chronic pain.

The reality is, it’s hard to make friends and strengthen your social connections when you’re an adult.

COVID-19 has made it even more difficult, especially when so many people relied on coming into work for their social life.

It’s even harder if you’re in the one half of people who are natural introverts.


The secret to friendship

The key to making friends in adulthood is having a shared experience.

You’ll find it much easier to make friends with people who share the same interests as you, or who are doing something alongside you. Remember how much easier it was to make friends at school? You were literally sharing the same experience, be it in class, on the sports field or in the playground.

  • Like to be active? Join a local fitness group, or an amateur local sports team. Even if you feel you’re unfit or ‘no good at sport’, you’ll be surprised how welcoming and supportive people are of newbies.
  • Prefer inside activities? Find out about a nearby book club, or even a local drama group. Use an app to find groups who share your hobby. No matter how obscure your interests, there are others out there who share your passion!

  • Another great way to feel more connected and purposeful is to volunteer for a cause that’s important to you. This could be online volunteering in the evening, or in real life on weekends.
  • And of course, if you have a dog, make the most of having your very own friend-finding machine. Take your dog to the local dog park or café at a regular time, and you’ll soon find yourself bumping into and getting to know other dog owners. Dogs have the ability to break down barriers and get even the shyest people talking.

Remember, almost everyone else feels the same as you. We all need and crave social connections; that’s what makes us human. Yet we often feel too busy, or too shy, to start the process. If you make it easy for people, they will welcome your friendship.


A quick social guide for introverts

Let’s clear something up. Introverts still want and need social connection, they just want and need them in different ways to extroverts.

If you’re an introvert, you probably find you prefer one-on-one conversations rather than group activities. You’re more likely to have a small group of close friends rather than big collection of acquaintances.

The good news is that research indicates it’s the quality not quantity of your friendships that matters in adulthood.

Research in the journal Psychology and Aging shows that the important thing is how you feel about your social interactions. You might be happier having a good in-depth chat with one person, and your extrovert colleague might be happier going out with a big group. Neither interaction is right or wrong, better or worse.

By understanding what you need from friendships, you can start to create the kinds of connections that make you feel good.

Sugar: to quit or not?

Is a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee OK? Or should we heed the warnings that say we should eliminate it entirely? Here’s the truth about sugar.

First it was fat, now sugar is in the firing line. Health experts agree that most of us eat too much sugar. But how much is too much? And what about so-called “natural” sugars?

The sugar we’re most familiar with is sucrose, which is the chemical name for white table sugar that’s made from sugar cane. But sugar also occurs naturally in foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruit, vegetables, grains and diary products.

This is where the confusion creeps in. It’s important we make distinction between sugar that’s added to food, called extrinsic sugar, and sugar that is naturally present in foods, called intrinsic sugar.

It’s the added sugar that is linked with health problems, not the sugar that’s found naturally in healthy foods such as fruit.


What are the health concerns?

Sugar has been blamed for many ills, from hyperactivity and depression to hormonal imbalances and lowered immunity. The science isn’t strong for many of these claims, but experts believe that sugar in excess contributes to obesity, heart disease, dental decay, and type 2 diabetes.

Most of the concern about high sugar diets has been focused on weight gain. When we eat too much sugar our livers can turn it into fat, and this fat can be deposited around our waist and internal organs. This is known as visceral fat and is especially harmful because it increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Excess body weight has also been linked to an increased risk of some forms of cancer and dementia.


How much sugar is safe to eat?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting ‘free’ or added sugars to less than 10 per cent of our total energy intake (or five per cent for added health benefits). This equates to around 12 teaspoons a day for an average adult.

Many people exceed this limit, often without knowing. ‘Free sugars’ don’t just come from us adding sugar to tea, coffee and home-cooked treats; they are also added to many foods by manufacturers, including cakes, biscuits and breakfast cereals. Sugar is also added to less obvious foods, such as salad dressings, curry pastes, pasta sauces, deli meats and some breads. Even tomato and barbeque sauces contain sugar – about a teaspoon for every serving.

Sugar-sweetened drinks are particularly problematic. A can of soft drink contains up to 10 teaspoons of added sugar, while a 600ml (20oz) bottle can have 14 teaspoons. These drinks are easy to consume and don’t fill you up like food does.

How to calculate how much sugar you’re eating

Food labels can tell you how much sugar is in a food, but they don’t tell the whole story.

There are two parts to a food label: the list of ingredients and the nutrition information panel (NIP). The NIP is also called the nutrition facts label in some countries.

The NIP will list total sugars per serving and per 100g. What it won’t tell you is whether that sugar is a natural part of the food or added by the manufacturer. This can be very misleading with a food such as natural Greek yoghurt. While the NIP will list sugar, this is the lactose – an intrinsic, natural sugar of diary foods. If you want to know whether a pot of yoghurt has sugar added, you have to read the list of ingredients.

When sugar is added to a food it must be included in the list of ingredients. You’d think sugar would be easy to spot, but there are over 40 different names for added sugar, including barley malt, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, dextrose, molasses, and maltose. Going back to the example of yoghurt, and added sweetener may appear as sucrose, fruit juice concentrate or honey.

Before you make a resolution not to let any sugar pass your lips, even WHO don’t recommend zero intake, most people would benefit from reducing our intake, but we don’t need to totally quit. So that’s good news for the chocolate lovers among us.

Which sugar is the healthiest?

Coconut sugar, rapadura, maple syrup, agave, rice malt syrup – they are all sugar, all act in a similar way in the body, and all have the same kilojoules. Some may be slightly less processed and contain trace amounts of nutrients but nothing that’s going to make a significant difference to your health – only your wallet.


Ways to be wise around sugar

  • Don’t drink your sugar. Sweetened drinks are the easiest way to over-consume sugar, and these include soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice.
  • Read the labels on the foods you eat most often. Some will have more added sugar than you suspect. And if any form of sugar is listed in the top three ingredients, that suggests it’s a high-sugar food.
  • Want to work out how many teaspoons of added sugar a product has? One teaspoon holds about four grams of sugar.
  • Enjoy baking? Cut the sugar by at least one third – you’re unlikely to notice the difference.
  • Don’t avoid whole fruit and dairy because of their intrinsic sugar – these are foods that are part of a healthy diet and haven’t been linked to any adverse health outcomes.

When You’re the Only One Who Can Hear It

It can be distressing, it affects one in three of us, and while there are many treatments, as yet there’s no cure.

Tinnitus is often described as “ringing in the ears”, but many people experience it as a whistling, whooshing or buzzing sound in their head.

It can come and go, or for many people it’s incessant. As a result, tinnitus can cause significant distress, affecting your ability to socialise, work and sleep.

While there’s no cure yet, there are many effective treatments. Here we answer the top questions about this common but deeply frustrating condition.


Who gets tinnitus?

Around one in three people will suffer from tinnitus at some point in their life, and about one in six have will have it constantly. It mostly affects people over 55, but you can get it at any age.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease, but it is a symptom of other medical conditions. It can be caused by neurological damage, vascular disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and long-term exposure to loud noise.

Short-term tinnitus can be due to wax build-up in the ears, or even a reaction to medication such as aspirin or antibiotics.


What can I do about it?

Although tinnitus can’t be seen or heard by others, it can be diagnosed through hearing tests, so see your doctor or an audiologist.

Your doctor may be able to identify the underlying cause of the tinnitus and find ways to manage that. For example, if your tinnitus is caused by medication, they might suggest switching to another type.

You can also try the many proven treatments and therapies. While these therapies can’t get rid of tinnitus, they can help reduce the perceived severity and make it easier to deal with.


What are the treatments for tinnitus?

  • Hearing aids

Around 90 per cent of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, but even if you’re in the other 10 per cent, a hearing aid can still help.

  • Sound therapies

External sounds can help mask, distract or help your brain ignore your particular tinnitus noise.

  • Emotional therapies

The psychological impact of tinnitus is significant, and therapies which help you manage the stress and distress it causes can make a huge difference.

  • Wellness and lifestyle

Stress, alcohol and caffeine can make tinnitus worse, and many people have found that changes such as healthier diet, exercise, meditation and yoga can help.

How Mediation Can Change Your Life… and How It Can’t

It has been heralded as the life-changing remedy for all mental, emotional and physical conditions. Yet for many of us, its benefits remain out of reach. Why?

Is it because it’s too hard?

Because we’re just not doing it right?

Or because the benefits aren’t as big as “they” said?

Here we explore the proven benefits of meditation along with the challenges that you may find in practising it.

What meditation CAN do

Meditation, along with its offshoot mindfulness, is proven to boost your mental and physical health.

Thousands of studies suggest it can help you reduce stress, improve sleep, increase focus and improve anxiety, depression and insomnia, and even reduce blood pressure.

There are too many studies to go into here, but let’s focus on some of the most popular benefits:

  • Stress reduction

Meditation is scientifically proven to reduce stress within eight weeks of regular practice.

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, found that meditating can change your brain, particularly the parts of the brain linked with stress.

She conducted a study of people who had never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. In the group who learned meditation, she found differences in five areas of the brain, including the parts involved in mind-wandering, in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation; in empathy and compassion and in the amygdala, the part for anxiety, fear and stress.

  • Focus

Meditation is proven to help you improve your focus, and in today’s “attention economy”, that’s something of a superpower.

Researchers from the University of Washington studied the impact of an eight-week course on mindfulness-based meditation on a group of knowledge workers. They found those who trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches as well as reporting less negative emotion afterwards.

  • Anxiety, depression, and insomnia

A 2014 literature review of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggests that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of improving anxiety and depression.

Another 2012 review of 36 trials found that 25 of them reported better outcomes for symptoms of anxiety in the meditation groups compared to control groups.

What meditation CAN’T do

While meditation and mindfulness are proven to help deal with the challenges of life, they’re not a cure-all.

One of the reasons people give up or get frustrated with meditation is the expectation that it will solve all your problems and transform your life.

Recently, numerous psychotherapists and meditation teachers have voiced concern about the commercialisation of mindfulness.

Dr Nicholas Van Dam, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, was a co-author of a paper called Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation. Along with psychiatrists, psychologists, and mindfulness experts from 15 different institutions, he says we need to be wary of people over-selling the benefits of mediation.

“I think the biggest concern among my co-authors and I is that people will give up on mindfulness and/or meditation because they try it and it doesn’t work as promised,” says Dr Van Dam.

Another concern is that when people are told they can, and should, ease their stress with mindfulness, it can imply that our stress is caused by us and our inability to control our minds, not by the inequalities of the system we live in.

Emailing Do’s and Don’t’s

Emails were designed to be quick, simple and clear. Are yours?

It might be time to ask yourself if your emails are sending the wrong message.

Have you ever sent an email in the heat of the moment? Or received an email so long that you stopped reading it halfway through? Avoid unwittingly annoying your colleagues or clients by following these rules of email etiquette.


1. Pay attention to the subject line. Avoid general words like ‘Hi’, ‘FYI’ or ‘Touching Base’, and instead write a clear concise subject line that reflects the body of the email, such as ‘Meeting date changed’.

2. Limit your emails to a few short paragraphs. “If you routinely send long, wordy emails, it’s likely that some of your recipients will start tuning out,” says workplace adviser and consultant Alison Green, author of the blog Ask a Manager. “If you need to communicate a large amount of information, email probably isn’t the way to do it.”

3. Make it clear what you’d like the recipient to do. Most of us receive an enormous number of emails, so help the recipient know exactly what you want them to do, says Green. Do you need information or input? Do you want them to take a particular action? Or are you just updating them, so you don’t require any action?


1. Hit “Reply all”. Unless the whole group needs to read your response – such as an ongoing group discussion – avoid using ‘Reply All’ advises Green. “More than 20 years after email came into popular use, offices are still battling epic reply-all failures that flood people’s mailboxes,” she says.

2. Use lots of CAPS and exclamation marks!! Using capital letters can be intimidating to the recipient, as it sounds like you’re yelling, while lots of exclamation marks at the end of sentences can come across as overly emotional or immature.

3. Get angry or snarky in an email. Email isn’t well suited to conflict, as it’s easy for your tone to come across much more harshly than it would in person, says Green. If you sense yourself becoming frustrated, it’s best that you back away from your email and have a real conservation.

Why You Should Start Your Day with a Coffee

Do you ever wonder if your morning caffeine habit could be harming your health? Maybe it’s time to discover the truth about the popular drink.

Many of us love coffee. Its caffeine is a stimulant that helps us feel less tired and more alert, even improving mood, reaction times and general brain function.

For a long time, coffee has been the victim of mixed messages. “One day coffee is reported as being good for us, and the next day, it is harmful,” says nutrition research scientist Dr Tim Crowe on his blog Thinking Nutrition.

But in the last few years a number of large studies have reassured us that moderate coffee drinking is not only safe, but might actually be beneficial.

Coffee lowers disease risk

In 2016, a large scientific review looked at over 1200 studies on coffee and disease, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, neurological disorders and longevity. For most of the health outcomes, the benefits of three to four cups of coffee a day (moderate consumption) outweighed the risks.

For anyone at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, one of the world’s fastest growing chronic conditions, the news about coffee is good. “Regular coffee drinkers have up to a two-thirds reduced risk of developing this condition,” says Dr Crowe.

Are you concerned about coffee’s supposed links with cancer? In a June 2016 report, the World Health Organisation officially lifted coffee from the list of potentially carcinogenic foods, while the World Cancer Research Fund International concluded that coffee consumption was linked with a lower risk of several types of cancer, including liver and endometrial.


Coffee drinkers live longer

A 2018 study that tracked half a million UK residents, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found those who drank coffee had a lower risk of dying of any cause. Because this is a correlational study, we can’t say for certain that coffee was the cause of the lower risk of death, but other large studies have similar findings.


What’s the good stuff in coffee?

While some of its health effects are related to caffeine, coffee is more than simply a stimulant. Both decaf and regular coffee contain a host of antioxidants including plant compounds called phytochemicals, many of which are likely to have health benefits. In fact, one estimate has found that the typical United States diet provides more antioxidants from coffee than from fruit and vegetables combined. Coffee also contains several nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, magnesium and potassium.

These aren’t all reasons to start drinking coffee if you don’t already, but they do suggest that you can safely enjoy, and benefit from, three to four cups a day.


When to be cautious with coffee

  • If you’re pregnant: It is recommended by health organisations in most countries that you have no more than 200mg caffeine (a maximum of two cups of coffee) a day because of a potential higher risk of miscarriage in women who consume too much caffeine.
  • If you have high blood pressure: don’t overdo your coffee habit as caffeine can temporarily increase blood pressure, although the long-term effects are not known.
  • If you have trouble sleeping: limit coffee drinking to before lunch. The half-life of caffeine – the time it takes your body to eliminate 50 per cent of what’s consumed – can vary between people and may last anywhere from two to 10 hours. This means it can still affect you long after you’ve finished your last cup.

Gratitude Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Gratitude. It’s the secret to health and happiness, and it’s free and available any time. So why can it be so hard to do? Why aren’t we more grateful? And what can we do about it?

Research tells us that practising gratitude boosts our physical, mental and emotional health.

According to Robert Emmons, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, feeling grateful can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and help you sleep better. It also reduces your risk of depression and anxiety and boosts resilience.

Yet, when we try to practise gratitude in real life, it often sparks a strange rebellion, like a child told to be grateful for vegetables at dinner.

There are two reasons for this:

1. It can feel invalidating

If we try to be grateful without acknowledging the challenges we’re facing or any difficult emotions we’re feeling, it can make us feel resentful.

2. We’re wired to look for danger

As humans, we’ve evolved because of our finely attuned ability to identify and overcome threats. Our survival depended on us focusing on things that were wrong, not on those that were right.

So how do we overcome these instinctive blocks to gratitude?


Here are three proven ways to boost your gratitude:

1. Let yourself feel the bad and the good.

Allow yourself to acknowledge other feelings – of sadness, fear or anger, for example – even while you practise feeling grateful. You can still look for things to be grateful for while admitting that life is hard right now.

2. Make gratitude a habit. Robert Emmons, the gratitude expert mentioned above, recommends setting aside time each week to write in a gratitude journal. He also shares the tip that focusing on people has more impact than focusing on things.

3. Go deep rather than wide. Emmons says focusing in depth on one thing that you’re truly grateful for can have more benefit than trying to think of a long list of superficial things.

So grab a piece of paper, or open the notes app on your phone, and find one thing to be grateful for right now!

There are also dedicated gratitude apps that you can use. Try searching for them in the App or Play stores.

Hit Pause in your Day

Our bodies are designed to move, yet our work often means staying in a position for long periods of time. To avoid injury or fatigued muscles we’re told to take a break for at least five minutes every 45 to 60 minutes. But is there any value in taking shorter, 30 to 60-second breaks? It turns out there is.


We all know the benefits of the lunch break. A 30-minute pause in your working day gives your body and brain the chance to recharge. But often we need a little more than a single break in the day. Enter the microbreak – any brief activity that breaks up the monotony of a physically or mentally draining task. Although tiny, microbreaks can make a big difference to your day.

Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, a microbreak is a brief, informal break from your computer screen or workstation. You might find you naturally take microbreaks to chat to a colleague or make a coffee. If you work from home, microbreaks like these might not be such a regular part of your day.

Why microbreaks matter

Research has shown taking microbreaks can increase comfort and reduce muscle fatigue and risk of injuries, particularly when stretches are included in the break. They can help us cope with long periods at our desks by taking the strain off certain parts of our bodies – such as the neck – that we’re using all day.

When your muscles are fatigued, they don’t do their job as well, so they need to rest occasionally to recover. Muscles recover very quickly from low levels of fatigue, but they take much longer to recover from high levels of fatigue, when they are tired and sore.

Micropauses of 30 to 60 seconds, every 10 to 20 minutes, will relax your muscles and restore blood flow. These small changes to your working activity allow you to change posture, position and eye focus. Studies show taking microbreaks may also improve concentration, productivity, stress and mood.

Combining microbreaks with viewing green space may be even better. Studies found that participants who were given a break looking at a photo of lush green roof, as compared to a concrete one, made fewer errors and were able to concentrate better. So if you can take time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver, your performance and attention is likely to benefit.

How to take a microbreak

Give yourself a rest from a repetitive task or position by taking a microbreak of up to 60 seconds every 20 minutes.

Try the following:

  • Eye break. Use the time to look away from your computer to help ease eye strain, symptoms of which include dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, neck and back pain and headaches. Use the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres) for at least 20 seconds.
  • Deep breathing. Focus on your breath for a few seconds to give your mind a break. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and out for four to five seconds. Repeat three times.
  • Shoulder shrug. Inhale deeply and gently lift your shoulders up to your ears. Hold for a few seconds, then let them slowly fall. Repeat three times.
  • Chin tuck. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. Now imagine drawing your chin back towards your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  • Back twists. Sit on the front of your seat, both feet on the floor, with a gap between your back and the back of your chair. Cross your arms lightly in front of your chest and slowly twist your upper body from side to side as far as is comfortable. Repeat a few times each way.
  • Neck stretch. Start with your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight. Lower your chin toward your chest and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Relax and slowly lift your head back up. Then tilt your chin up to the ceiling, bringing the base of your skull toward your back. Hold for 10 seconds and return to the start position.

  • Side tilt. You can do this standing or sitting. Gently tilt your head toward your right shoulder until you feel the stretch (don’t raise your shoulder). Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
  • Leg extensions. While you’re sitting, pull in your tummy then slowly extend each leg in turn and lower back down.
  • Tennis ball roll. Give your feet a gentle massage. With your shoes off, roll the arch of your feet over a tennis ball back and forth for about 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Take a stand. Set a timer to remind you to stand up for at least every 30 minutes. While you’re standing, place your hands on your waist and gently arch your back, going no further than is comfortable.

Need a bit of fun in your downtime?

There could be some benefits from watching those funny cat videos you love. While it’s best to take a break from the screen to move, one study found that humour can have an energising effect when you’re trying to do a complex task.

A study done on 124 students found that when they were given a boring task and then exposed to funny videos (an episode of “Mr Bean”) the students worked twice as long as those who watched videos on neutral subjects.

Can You Learn to Become an Optimist?

Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.” Martin Seligman


“Sure!” answers the optimist in you.

“Unlikely”, answers the pessimist.

Sorry to disappoint your inner pessimist, but you can rewire your brain to be optimistic, and the benefits are immense.

The pioneer of positive psychology and author of Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, says “Pessimism is one of the personality traits that’s highly heritable, but also modifiable by specific exercises.”

In fact, research on twins found that optimism is only around 25 per cent inherited – the rest is up to us.

Surprisingly, the big difference between pessimists and optimists is not what they think might happen in the future. Instead, the difference is what they see as the cause of the problem.

Seligman explains:

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.”

In another win for optimists, it turns out that you can learn to be optimistic.

“Pessimism is escapable,” says Seligman. “Pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists, and not through mindless devices like whistling a happy tune or mouthing platitudes… but by learning a new set of cognitive skills.”

Learning new cognitive skills might sound difficult, but it’s actually quite fun and not too hard. Here are two exercises you can try right now:

1.Imagine your ideal future

We spend too much time worrying about worst-case scenarios. Take a moment to playfully imagine your future success. See yourself, say ten years in the future, happy, thriving and loving life. Who is with you? What does it feel like? What dreams have come true, and in what way?

This is called the best possible selves (BPS) activity, and more than 30 studies have shown it can increase optimism, positive emotions, health and wellbeing.

The trick is to do this exercise many times over, such as once a week for eight weeks.


2.Argue with yourself

When you notice you’re having negative thoughts, argue with them. Seligman says, “First recognise them and then treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life was to make you miserable.”

You’ll find that you start standing up for yourself against your own thoughts, in the same way that you��d defend a friend being unfairly accused of wrongdoing.


When positivity becomes negative

If you haven’t heard of the term “toxic positivity”, chances are you’ve seen it in action. It’s that friend who insists on everyone being positive all the time.

Toxic positivity demands that we deny negative feelings and pretend everything is OK, even when it’s not. It’s become more prevalent than ever this last year, as people tried to cope with the challenges that the pandemic has brought.

A tell-tale phrase is “at least.” “At least you’ve still got a roof over your head.” “At least you can work while the kids are home.”

But ignoring negative feelings is like ignoring a physical health symptom: it will fester. It’s vital that we acknowledge and address difficult emotions – in others and in ourselves.

Next time you hear a friend say “gotta stay positive!”, use it as a reminder to embrace your genuine emotions.

How to Disagree with Colleagues

Disagreements are inevitable, normal, and a sign of a healthy, successful team. Yet many of us want to escape conflict as much as possible, and will try to avoid openly disagreeing with a work colleague, even though we may feel very strongly about our viewpoint.

You may not see eye to eye with a workmate but find it difficult to speak up. Or perhaps in meetings you want to disagree but are concerned about causing offence. Most of us don’t want to disagree as it makes us feel uncomfortable. And many of us don’t really know how to do it, often fearing being seen as angry, rude or unkind.

It’s easier to agree than to confront someone. But learning to openly and respectfully disagree with a workmate can improve your working relationships and give you greater job satisfaction.


Getting comfortable with conflict

1. Focus on respect. It’s normal to want people to like us, but it’s not always the most important thing. Instead aim for respect – giving it and receiving it. You can give respect by acknowledging that you understand or see why your co-worker feels the way they do, even when you strongly disagree with them. That way the other person is more likely to feel listened to and understood.

2. Don’t equate disagreement with unkindness. While there are some people who genuinely don’t want to be disagreed with, most people are open to hearing a different perspective if shared thoughtfully, and it’s unlikely you will be hurting anyone’s feelings.

3. Pick your battles. If you disagree with too much, your co-workers are likely to see you as argumentative and disagreeable. It then makes it harder for you to get heard with any reasonable disagreement you have.

4. Aim for calm. If you’re angry, emotional or upset, it’s going to affect your professionalism. Get yourself ready for a disagreement with a couple of calming breaths.

5. Avoid personal attacks. Your disagreement must be based on facts, experience, or your intuition, not on the personality of the other person. Once you start using the word ‘you’ as in “You just don’t understand…” you’re moving into a more personal attack.

6. Speak for yourself. Though it might be tempting, avoid phrases such as “Everyone believes this,” or “We all feel this way.” You can only put forward your point of view. 

Communicate in-person

Try not to disagree via email, advises career coach Jill Ozovek, writing in The Muse. Talk in person, over the phone or video chat. Why?

“First and foremost, you can both read body language and hear intonations in each other’s voices this way, leading to fewer misunderstandings (how many times has something come across as snarky in an email, when you only meant it as explanatory?),” she says.

“Secondly, talking in person also helps you both remember that you’re talking to a person – presumably a person you like – not just a computer screen. This will make it easier to be sympathetic and make it more likely that you’ll do your best to work together to find a solution, rather than fight against each other.”