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Published on September 10, 2018

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

More by this author

Mat Apodaca

Living a Complete Life Guru. Writing about the importance of having a well rounded life and how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happinness

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home How to Deal with Anger and Better Control Your Emotions How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward The Art of Building Relationships You Need to Succeed in Your Career How to Be Influential and Gain Respect at Work

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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