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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

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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