The workplace can be a perilous and thorny scene for disagreements. Being loud and clear leaves no room for misinterpretation. But it can also leave no room for anyone else’s ideas. Staying silent doesn’t air dissenting opinion. So that’s no good, either.
How to find more neutral ground? Here are 12 ways to register your disagreement without clobbering coworkers with the know-it-all club.
1. “Hmmm…” (then, silence)
It can be hard to stay silent when we disagree with someone. But doing so actually gives a reaction. It’s just a silent one. Chances are, the person will follow up with more detail or try to explain their idea better or more convincingly. Plus, it leaves some space in the conversation.
If silence is too subtle, try asking just, “why?” Then keeping 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. And 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 aren’t indicating any sense of agreement. And like #3, it leads your co-worker — not you — to point out flaws or shortcomings with the idea. That can help keep defensiveness at bay.
5. “Can you talk me through that in more detail? I’m not seeing a successful outcome with that approach.”
This response gives people more time to talk, which lets them feel like they are being listened to. Plus, it does let them explain the idea more clearly. Significantly, it also shows that — 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”
Here’s another way to discuss potential pitfalls from the approach of being on the same team. This response effectively makes space for your view. But it doesn’t sound threatening, so you’re more likely to be heard.
8. “I see the situation from this angle”
Here, your opposition is implied, just 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 is another phrase that achieves a result similar to #8. You present your view without first declaring an unfavorable opinion about your co-worker’s idea. This is subtle. Yet, it creates a much more neutral context for your proposal to be received and heard.
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 it indicates that you’re going to lay out the flaws and shortcomings you see with your co-worker’s idea. However, it still avoids personalizing the disagreement by firing back with: “You’re wrong.” Or worse: “That’s stupid!”
I’m not suggesting that we tiptoe around colleagues with whom we disagree. Not at all. But what I am saying is this: when you use phrases that are civil and respectful in disagreeing with co-workers, you are more likely to keep the discussion calm and also more likely to get your own point across. When people feel like they or their ideas are being attacked, 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 to share.