Three Ways to Tactfully Disagree

Three Ways to Tactfully DisagreeSometimes it can be hard to speak up and express disagreement in a tactful way. Perhaps we have no filter, particularly if the subject matter triggers our emotions. Or we may refrain from saying what really needs to be said out of fear of being disliked or out of concern for others’ feelings. But part of being an effective leader is being an effective communicator. It requires knowing how to express differences in ways that are positive and productive, which is a skill that requires practice and experience and, quite honestly, is also part of your job. If you struggle with disagreeing with others, make a commitment to work on this aspect of your leadership. Disagreeing with tact doesn’t just play a role in decision-making and driving more immediate results. It shapes your leadership style, your capacity for earning respect, and making a more sustainable impact over the course of your career.

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Here are three ways to start sharpening this skill today:

1. Make It Safe In The Workplace To Disagree

This is about encouraging opportunities in which debate and robust conversations can take place. For example, in meetings, make ground rules that sponsor constructive discussion on opposing views. Establish courtesies to support it—avoid interrupting, sidebar conversations and defensive language; minimize distractions; solicit differing perspectives through open-ended questions; listen more, talk less; keep a sense of humor; and recognize and express gratitude when people demonstrate courage, speaking up and sharing various points of view. Help them understand why it matters and can result in better outcomes.

2. Lead By Example

Part of making it safe for people to disagree is not being so vocal yourself. Pick your battles—don’t go to the mat for each and every thing. Take a break to listen to others’ viewpoints, asking those open-ended questions of those around you. Speak up when it’s important but remember that people will listen to and respect your ideas more if you don't always dominate the discussions. Remember that you’re not just trying to develop an answer or solve some problem—you’re working to engage minds and mindfully engage people through an experience that results in greater understanding and consensus. The last thing you want is a “yes” culture to develop, whereby everyone feels forced to agree with you all the time. Remember, if you’ve made the right hiring decisions, everyone will have something unique and of value to bring to the table.

3. Adopt Effective Disagreement Strategies

This is about really honing those verbal and nonverbal skills that support your emotional intelligence in the face of conflict and disagreement. Shaking your head when someone is expressing a view doesn’t help. Paying attention and maintaining an open, non-defensive look does. As well, choosing language carefully is also a proven strategy for more effective dialogue. For example, resist the urge to say, “You’re wrong.” Swap that out for “I see it differently.” This simple wordplay will suck out potential, negative energy that’s possibly building in the conversation. It enables you to focus on the problem, not the person with whom you may disagree.

What can you do to encourage open communication among employees?​​​

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