Life is compromise.
If you want to work successfully in teams, at some point you will face conflict. In one instance, you may be the manager correcting a team member. In other cases, you may need to "lead up" by disagreeing with a superior.
Either way, successful communication includes the ability to navigate conflict while putting people before the problem.
Here are four ways to prioritize relationship while politely disagreeing.
1. Don't Blurt
When you hear an incorrect statement, do you immediately or forcefully disagree?
How's that working for you?
Before you speak, consider how important it is to voice your opinion. Weigh the risks of speaking out versus the risks of staying silent. If you feel compelled to share, consider when and where is best. What context would be most appropriate or what channel would provide the least threatening avenue for your listener? Discussing issues privately (face-to-face) is ideal for minimizing tension or preserving dignity.
2. Prepare Your Listener
Sometimes the best way to dissent is by prefacing your idea.
Ask permission to comment by saying something like this: "I'm not sure I share your opinion, may I make a comment?" Or, "I know the deadline is pressing, but I'm concerned about this approach. Can I run some thoughts by you?"
Giving people a chance to "opt-in" will increase their willingness to listen.
3. Keep Language Neutral
As you unwrap your idea, alleviate tension by keeping your tone steady and your language neutral.
Start by identifying a common goal and frame your opinion as one way the team can work together for a higher purpose.
Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate, says contextualizing your statements will allow the discussion to become "more like a chess game than a boxing match."
If you need to critique another idea, re-articulate that concept first and build comments from there. This will eliminate confusion and show a good faith effort to understand others.
When you disagree directly, make your focus the problem or flaw at hand, not the people or personalities behind them.
4. Be Humble
No one appreciates prideful people.
When you speak, do your best to be relatable and kind. Emphasize that you are sharing an opinion and leave room for dialogue. This may include phrases like, "I'm just thinking out loud here," or "this is just my opinion, but . . ."
Polite, clarifying questions may also help. Say, "can you tell me more about ____," or "can you define what you mean by ____, because maybe I'm defining that differently?"
Speak humbly by inviting the critique of others and by publicly respecting their opinions.
Still struggling for words? Business Management Daily offers several prompts to open the door:
- "I see what you're saying but…"
- "May I make a comment?"
- "I'm sorry but I disagree with you about this."
- "Tell me if I'm off-base here, but…"
- "I understand where you're coming from, but…"
- "That's a valid point, but…"
- "I don't think I share your opinion."
- "If I'm not mistaken..."
Agree to Disagree
Finally, there may be times it's best to agree to disagree.
It's ok to break a stalemate by acknowledging that you will never agree about an idea. By doing this you can affirm the person (or their authority) without selling out to their idea or opinion.
Everyone gets things wrong sometimes, and if you're committed a relationship, you'll give people more grace to experiment or to grow.