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HOME::Career & Employment

Top 7 Ways to Disagree with Someone

By Kevin Kearns

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My 6-year old daughter, Maren, will often have disagreements with my 3-year old son, K.J. Before you know it, K.J. will have Maren participating in a battle of the "na-uh's" and "uh-huh's." The disagreement can be something as unworthy as K.J. claiming he is older than Maren. She knows he is not; nonetheless, she finds herself in the middle of a disagreement, growing more and more frustrated.

When you work with people, you are bound to have disagreements. This can be inconvenient, frustrating, or even cause long-lasting damage to work relationships and performance. The good news is the same disagreements also offer an opportunity to better understand one another, create stronger relationships, and improve performance. Often times, the choice is yours! The following seven tips provide guidelines for obtaining positive outcomes from disagreements.

  1. It's Business, Never Personal: The disagreement is never about you. When people disagree with you, do not allow yourself to take ownership of what they say. The person is disagreeing with some set of circumstances; he or she is not challenging you as a person. You must grant permission to the other person to make it a personal attack. Remember, you have the power to keep even the worse disagreements on a professional level.

  2. No Zingers: Refrain from comments you know will strike a nerve. It is easy to make a comment that, although not a direct insult, it is intended to ruffle the feathers of the other person. This passive-aggressive approach can look something like this: Lisa "I disagree with the direction you're taking on this." Bob responds "Don't you have enough things to worry about with your own job?" A response like this will automatically put Lisa on the defensive. Bob could have said to Lisa, "I understand you disagree, however this decision is my responsibility and I feel this is the best direction for us to go." He would still stand firm on his decision without prompting a war of words (and egos) with Lisa.

  3. Listen & Hear: Listen for the meaning behind what the person is saying. We have all been guilty of listening and at the same time, not hearing what is said. In our busy work environment, we feel pressed to move onto "more important things". When racing thoughts of "more important things" are compounded with a strong desire to win a disagreement, it makes sense that we have so many needless disagreements. Next time you have a disagreement, instead of using your non-speaking time as mental-ammo stockpiling, put forth the effort to hear what the other person is saying. It may be that easy.

  4. Body Language: Words of peace mean nothing mixed with signs of war. How many times have you been in a disagreement with someone and the person says he is not mad? His head had smoke coming off the top of it, but he insists he is not mad. Are you guilty of doing this? You may be saying all the right things to resolve the issue, but your body language is screaming, "this person is such a pain!" You will not get the resolution you are hoping for if the person does not believe what you are saying be conscious of your body language.

  5. I not You: Remember to use "I" when stating your feelings. My dad used to always say "nobody can make you do anything." As a child I did not understand, after all, he made me do stuff all the time. However, I have learned that although I often do things for others, I always do it by my own free will. Whenever we get upset, it is always by choice. Own your feelings; instead of saying "you make me so mad when you roll your eyes, you don't respect me," try saying, "when I notice you rolling your eyes, I take that to mean you are not respecting what I have to say."

  6. Swap Shoes: Put yourself in their shoes to understand why they disagree. Sincerely put yourself in the other person's shoes. What is he or she upset about and why? When you look from their perspective, you will be surprised with the view you have. You may see why they disagree, or at the very least, you may appreciate why they are disagreeing and have a better understanding of how to help them move from that viewpoint.

  7. Let it Go: Stop and think, is this disagreement worth the effort? It is easier said than done (just ask my daughter Maren), but just letting it go may be your best option. Before you jump into your next disagreement, consider the following questions:

    • Do the potential benefits of this disagreement outweigh the potential costs?

    • Do I really care either way?

    • Am I willing to follow the other six tips listed?

    If you did not answer yes to all three questions, you may want to let it go. I have personally learned (more than once) that being right is not always as great as you imagine. What good is it to win one battle if it costs you the war?

    It is amazing how one small disagreement can cause so much damage. Limiting this type of damage is crucial. The above tips will help you avoid those molehills turning into mountains. There is one catch; you must be willing to follow the tips, even in the heat of the moment. The good news is if you follow them, you will avoid those pointless "na-uh"/"uh-huh" debates. Now, if only I can get my children to read this article.

Kevin Kearns is President of Kearns Advantage (, a leadership development company. Kearns Advantage works with business owners and leaders to improve results, guaranteed! Kevin holds a Master of Science degree in Organization Development from Central Washington University and is a member of the Coachville Graduate School of Coaching. Kevin also mediates business disputes for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.


Article Submitted On: July 06, 2004