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How to be disagreeable

What happens when you need to question the authority of someone who has more power than you, such as a manager, a director, a CEO, a chairman, an investor or even a client. There are various ways to manage the situation – some of which a few aides to Donald Trump may be interested to know!

Disagreeing goes against our basic human instinct: we want to want to be liked. When we disagree with someone we are entering a zone of conflict which makes most people uncomfortable, but learning to present a different or even opposing point of view in a well managed way can have untold benefits both to a business and a working relationship. It’s all in the delivery.

Our worry over speaking up and the fallout that may follow is often over inflated. We think we’ll make an enemy or upset someone, but the
chances are an expression of surprise will soon be followed by a balanced, useful conversation, if you approach it properly. In some cases, not
speaking up could be the more damaging option so it’s worth weighing up the consequences. When to speak up is also important – could there be others who disagree as well, have they experienced this situation before, do you need time to think the issue through?

Once you’ve decided to speak up, it’s worth finding a shared goal in order to connect your source of conflict to a higher purpose, such
as a deadline for example. Be very clear on this so that your disagreements don’t overshadow the end game. This way you keep it business, not personal. If you’re dealing with someone who is superior to you or overbearing, you may seek their permission to disagree first.
For example, “I can see we’re working towards using this strategy to develop a growing audience share, but I have reservations as to why I think this may not work. Can I share these with you?” By them verbally opting in, you should feel more confident about sharing your differing views.

Remaining in physical and emotional control during these conversations can be a challenge. Be aware that your body language can communicate a different story to what you’re telling. Speak slowly and calmly in an even tone to demonstrate confidence and certainty in what you’re saying. Equally your language is crucial at this point. Keep it unemotional – only share the facts and stay neutral. For example, don’t say, “This strategy is short-sighted and flawed.” Try, “We’ve tried this strategy twice and it worked once, but there were special circumstances that don’t exist this time.” Another approach to try is instead of saying the commonly used “I’m playing devil’s advocate” (which could rub people up the wrong way) is to say “I’m considering this from a different perspective”.

It’s important to recognise that an opinion is just that – an opinion. Whilst you’ve done your research and come up with a valid argument, recognise that you have asserted a position (not a fact) and stay curious about other view points. If you are genuinely open to hearing other opinions, yours may well be better listened to. By showing respect to all the voices in the room, your self-respect will stay in tact and you’ll
reach the end goal – hopefully in harmony.


This article was originally featured in The Informer – October 2018. To read the full magazine, please click here.