How to Disagree Without Arguing

BY Kathy Crosett
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The last thing you want is for everyone on your team to automatically agree with every idea you propose. You’re counting on these folks to offer their insights and opinions in order to improve your products and services. Could they be holding back on what they really think, because they fear disagreeing with you? If that’s the case, you may need to work on your leadership style. You’ll also want to adjust the work environment to encourage open conversation, but at the same time, consider setting a few rules of engagement to prevent disagreements from turning into arguments.

In his post on Mapconsulting​.com, John Manning advises leaders to think about the approach they take when they disagree with someone else’s opinion. You should do this, too.  Hopefully, you’re not telling people openly that you don’t think their ideas have merit. As Manning points out, when you are in meetings with your team, and you’re soliciting input, the real goal is to stimulate conversation. If you tell someone she's wrong, she's not going to continue contributing. Instead, thank her for sharing her opinion and tell her you're open to new ways of thinking about old problems.

Pay attention to your body language as well. If you start checking your phone or doodling when someone is describing her idea, you’re sending a message, and it’s not a positive one. Your team member will notice your verbal and non-​verbal reactions when she’s talking. If she senses disapproval or disagreement, she has no incentive to continue. So be courteous, put down your phone, and listen.

Your positive example may also influence other team members to behave in meetings. When it doesn’t, address distractions created by individuals who frequently have their own private conversations during meetings. You don’t want to act like a grade-​school teacher and call out the offenders, though. Look for a positive way to draw their attention. Consider asking, “Did everyone hear the excellent point Angela just made?” And then ask Angela to repeat it.

You’ll also need to shut down people who have a reputation for interrupting the speaker. To discourage that behavior, take five minutes at the start of every meeting to ask participants to agree on the rules of engagement. After everyone agrees that interruptions and other discourteous behavior like yelling are off limits, it will be easier for you to remind them to stop.

Establishing expectations and showing strong leadership will encourage healthy meeting discussions and disagreements, and avoid arguments.