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How to Disagree Respectfully to Get What You Really Want at Work

How to Disagree Respectfully to Get What You Really Want at Work

You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again – you spend one-third of your life at work. While that saying is one of those “yeah, yeah, I know type deals” you should really let that sink in.

One-third of your life is a massive chunk of time. If you work full time this is equivalent to 80 entire days at work per year. Wow! While there are more and more people who seem to be working in a contractor type lifestyle, the majority of us work with other co-workers or employees.

Whether we work in a huge corporate office building alongside 1,000 other employees or in a family owned business with 5 other folks, we bump elbows with other people at work on a regular basis.

As tends to happen when interacting with other humans, we disagree from time to time. What we will be discussing here is how to disagree respectfully to get what you really want at work.

I’ve been in the work force post college for 25 years. I’ve really had what I define as 2 careers.

My first career, which lasted 12 years, was managing larger and larger retail stores. At the height of that I managed 80 other coworkers in 3 locations and about $6M in annual revenue. Along the way I had a variety of bosses I didn’t exactly see eye to eye with.

In my 2nd career which is at the 14 year mark I’ve worked in a variety of corporate environments ranging from 40 other coworkers to north of 1,000 in my building. Needless to say I’ve had more than my share of disagreements.

Do I always get what I want? No. But I’ve gotten a lot smarter about it. I’ve learned how to disagree respectfully to get what I want, at least most of the time.

Let’s get into it.

Who do we disagree with?

At work you’ve got a variety of coworkers you could potentially argue or disagree with.

Your own group

If you work with other people who do what you do, like a group of 10 business analysts, that’s one group that you might lock horns with from time to time.

Speaking from experience, I’ve worked around sales and recruiting folks for over a decade. Some of them I got along with swimmingly, others I barely spoke to because we disagreed on how to do most everything.

Other departments

If you are a business analyst, you are probably working with other departments on projects, which means you could potentially disagree with the other departments. This is more prevalent in larger corporate type environments.

I’ve been in work situations where an entire group didn’t really care much for another group. The two groups had to interact on a lot of projects and seemed to bicker and disagree about every little thing along the way.

Project or team leads

Disagreeing with project or team leads is not uncommon. If you’ve ever worked on a larger initiative, you’ve probably seen this dynamic in play.

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Anywhere from 4 – 25 people are on a project team. There is typically one project leader or similar type person who is driving the bus.

Now if this person is someone who is skilled at managing teams then there is usually no problem. But if this person is more of a “my way or the highway” type person you’re probably in for some long heated discussions.

Your boss

Many of us disagree with our bosses. I feel like I could write an entire article on this. Some of us are blessed with motivating and encouraging bosses who support our growth and development. Some of us aren’t.

Let’s just put it that way. This is one of the toughest situations to learn to disagree respectfully in. But it is certainly doable.

The most common reasons people disagree

The short version of why we disagree is because we are human. As such we all have our own opinions on how things should be done, our own experiences, our own motivating factors, our own insecurities, etc.

We are all uniquely different and have a different perspective on things. We see the world through our own individual lens of life.

This is true of any situation where there are more than just ourselves involved. Our spouse, friends, parent’s, kids, fellow commuters, heck even at the grocery store.

This all applies at work as well. Some big motivators for disagreeing at work include:

The need for power

Everyone likes to feel some form of control over their lives and this is true at work as well. And this is fine to a point.

The challenges arise when someone is exerting their power over others on a regular basis. The need for all the credit, the need to always be right, the need to be seen as the mover and shaker.

Poor me

We all know people who are skilled at playing the victim card. Anything that doesn’t go their way is always someone else’s fault.

This is a great tactic for the perpetual victim because they never have to take responsibility for their own lives.

Of course a side effect is they blame other people for things (whether it’s true or not) and this can lead to disagreement and dissent.

We’ve always done it this way

This is something we can all most likely identify with.

When there’s a variety of experience levels doing a similar job, many times you get the newer folks asking “why do we do it this way” and “I’ve done it a different way and it’s better because….”. They tend to disagree with the people who have done a certain process or system for a long time and aren’t receptive to change.

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And then there are people who do it their own way which is fine in some instances but probably not in others.

Lack of communication

This one is huge. When someone only receives part of the information for a job, they are supposed to do what they think they were supposed to, not necessarily what the requester had in mind.

You get the “I told you that I wanted ____________ (fill in the blank) and that’s not what you gave me”. This one is prevalent everywhere due to everyone being so busy all the time and let’s be honest, many people aren’t great communicators.

Different visions

Say I am a CFO and I have a certain vision for the direction of the company. I work fairly closely with the COO who has a different vision for the company.

Since we have to work towards a similar goal but we see the goal as different, we are going to argue. A lot.

If we don’t agree on the direction and general strategy of the goal, we should both be working towards somewhere where it’s not going to be a fun place to be.

As we are about to see arguing about having different visions isn’t all bad, especially when both sides are passionate about success.

How disagreeing helps you get what you really want

When working towards a common shared goal, the fact that you argue and disagree about something means you care about it. So keep this in mind the next time you and your boss disagree on how something should be done.

You are working towards achieving some success for the company. Remember this and don’t be afraid to point this fact out to your boss(or whoever) you are disagreeing with.

Despite the fact you are disagreeing about how to get to a certain goal, you are working towards a goal that’s important to you. Working toward what you want.

Don’t take it personal. Again, this is great advice for life in general but certainly true in this situation. We are all see life differently. My experiences shape how I see situations, the same is true for you.

Remember that and don’t take it personal when someone disagrees with you. Keep voicing your opinions and it will help you in your quest to get what you want.

When you disagree respectfully, you also gain……wait for it, respect. Earning respect helps you get what you want as well. This is because others see you as someone who is willing to fight for what they feel is important. And this will help you get what you want.

When you disagree respectfully at work, you learn how to manage your boss. You figure out how far you can push, how much you can disagree.

When you are able to disagree in a respectful manner, a good boss will respect that and think of you as someone who brings new ideas to the table. Once you learn how to manage your boss effectively, at least most of time, it helps you get what you want. And having a boss in your court is invaluable.

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Finally, when you are able to disagree respectfully, it will help you manage your career better.

If you feel you are underpaid, it becomes easier to have that conversation with your manager. If you feel like you’re doing 3/4 of the work on a project and that slacker Larry is barely doing 1/4, you are able to articulate this better to Larry or your boss.

The ability to disagree respectfully will help you in all areas of managing your career.

When is it beneficial to disagree?

More often that that you’d initially think. Remember this key piece of information when disagreements or arguments happen at work:

Arguing means you care (except in the case of the poor me). You care enough about something that you have a strong opinion about it. And you are willing to open your mouth and share your opinion and battle for what you feel is right. That’s a good thing.

It is beneficial to argue and disagree at work when two sides are working towards the same goal and are passionate about getting there. This means they both want success in one fashion or another and just happen to disagree about how to get there.

In most cases, it’s not a bad thing to argue. A great company should foster an environment and culture where it’s okay and even encouraged to have different ideas and to challenge each other. This is how innovation happens, people knocking around ideas.

However, if there is frequent arguing and someone usually wins, then everyone actually loses.

When someone wins an argument or disagreement, it means someone else loses. And the person that loses the argument will then have a bruised ego and potentially bad feelings. The person that loses will also many times harbor resentment towards both the person they argued with as well as the manager (if present) that allowed it to happen. This in turn makes the manager lose too. The person that lost the argument as well as any observers are much more likely to not say anything next time.

See? Everyone loses.

How to disagree respectfully

When disagreeing at work, it is important to remember a few tips so that you can disagree respectfully. Let’s take a look at how to disagree respectfully:

1. Make sure the disagreement is about the idea involved and not the people.

When we argue, it’s between two or more people. When we disagree, it’s about an idea.

When you remember that you are disagreeing about an idea, it takes the personalization out of the equation. You can remember it’s not someone arguing about you as a person, it’s about two people challenging each others idea.

It makes it less personal and more productive. You can remember you are working together towards a common goal.

2. Be willing to admit your are wrong.

Even if you’re completely sure you aren’t. Sounds funny doesn’t it?

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When you admit you are wrong, even when you know you aren’t, it disarms the situation.

The fact that you are willing to admit you are wrong immediately changes the dynamics of the disagreement. If you happen to be at least partially wrong, you’ve already saved some face by admitting it.

3. Take a look at all sides.

You know your ideas are the best but is it always worth arguing to prove it?

Make sure you don’t get so caught up in the heat of debate that you don’t look at the other sides and opinions. Giving value to other opinions also helps others come around to seeing your side or idea better.

When you say something like “You know Jim, I really like your position on X, Y, Z, how can we work our two ideas together?” you are validating what the other person is saying and showing that you believe in their ideas. This is powerful stuff.

4. Remain professional.

I am fairly reactive when something happens that I don’t like or agree with. I’ve been known to receive an email that made steam come out of my ears and quickly fire a response back. Bad idea.

In my smarter moments, I walk away and force myself to not respond until I’ve had time to settle down.

Remember to keep your cool and act professional when disagreeing.

5. Use stories and not data.

It may feel like you are showing off your big brain when you break out all the facts and figures but it’s not helping you much. In fact, it turns people off and draws blank stares in a short period of time.

What does help is telling a good story. When you are able to tell a story that helps you illustrate your point, you’re going to get people to see and identify with your point of view much better.

6. Find common ground.

This is true in any partnership or team type environment, isn’t it?

Many times the best solution is to find the compromise that accomplishes the majority of what everyone wants to achieve. You want to get to as much of a win-win type scenario as possible.

Conclusion

We’ve taken a long look at how to disagree respectfully at work to get what you really want. Once you are able to master this, it will help you achieve your goals much more effectively.

Remember, it’s not a bad thing to disagree at work. The best companies foster a culture of differing ideas. This leads to disagreements which then leads to innovation. The COO of the company I work for puts it very eloquently:

“Sometimes we violently agree”.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Mat Apodaca

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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