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.”