The workplace can be a perilous and thorny scene for disagreements.
Being loud and clear leaves no room for misinterpretation, but it also leaves no room for anyone else’s ideas. Staying silent doesn’t air dissenting opinions, so that’s no good, either.
How can you find more neutral ground?
Here are 12 ways to register your disagreement without clobbering co-workers:
1. “Hmmm …” (then silence)
It can be hard to stay silent when you disagree with someone, but when you do, you actually give a reaction—it’s just a silent one. Chances are the person will follow up with more detail, or try to explain his idea better or more convincingly. Plus, it leaves some space in the conversation.
If silence is too subtle, try asking “why?” Then keep quiet. It’s respectful but direct.
3. “I hear the pros. What about some of the cons?”
This response shows you’re listening but dubious. It invites your co-worker to think through other options and share them.
4. “So, what do you consider the downsides to be?”
Here you don’t indicate any sense of agreement. And like No. 3, it leads your co-worker—not you—to point out the idea’s flaws or shortcomings. This can help keep defensiveness at bay.
5. “Can you talk me through this in more detail? I’m not seeing a successful outcome with this approach.”
This response gives people more time to talk, which lets them feel like you are listening to them. Plus, it lets them explain the idea more clearly. Significantly, it also shows—in a calm manner—you are not on board.
6. “Well, let’s imagine if this happened …”
This response lets you object in a way that feels collaborative. You’re proposing to puzzle through options together and continue the discussion.
7. “We could look at it from this perspective, too.”
This is another way to discuss potential pitfalls while demonstrating you’re on the same team. This response effectively makes space for your perspective, but doesn’t sound threatening. This way the person is more likely to hear what you have to say.
8. “I see the situation from this angle …”
Here your opposition is implied, but not named. You don’t state “I disagree,” even though you do. Rather, you jump right to the next step and share your differing view.
9. “I’d like to lay out another perspective.”
This phrase achieves a result similar to No. 8. You present your view without declaring an unfavorable opinion about your co-worker’s idea. It’s subtle, yet creates a much more neutral context for your co-worker to hear your proposal.
10. “I don’t see it that way.”
This response naturally invites your co-worker to ask you why. It sets up a platform for you to keep talking and explain why you disagree.
11. “I have a different take on that. Here are my thoughts …”
This response indicates two things: You’re not a fan of the idea, and you’re going to present your reasons. Still, it sounds much less confrontational than, “You’re wrong, and here’s why.”
12. “I see risks with that approach, such as these …”
This is the most direct response of the bunch. It clearly states your opposition, and indicates you’re going to lay out the flaws and shortcomings you see. However, it still avoids personalizing the disagreement by firing back with, “You’re wrong.” Or worse: “That’s stupid!”
I’m not suggesting we tiptoe around colleagues with whom we disagree—not at all. What I am saying is when you use phrases that are civil and respectful when you disagree with co-workers, you are more likely to keep the discussion calm and get your point across. When people feel like you are attacking them or their ideas, it shuts down the conversation.
You might disagree, and I’m happy to hear why. You might also have other effective approaches for dissenting in the workplace. Please share.
This article is republished with permission, courtesy of 12 Most.