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.
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.”