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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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