The Art of Disagreeing (and How It Improves Your Leadership)

Most of us avoid conflict at all costs. Yet when we bypass disagreements in the workplace, it can quickly turn things sour.

For companies to develop and flourish, leaders must learn the art of disagreeing because disagreeing is communicating. More often than not, especially when we are in the business of growing, innovating and pushing the barrier with a large organization, opposition is essentially a guarantee.

When we continually avoid disagreements, conflicts and confrontations, we only worsen our problems and delay the inevitable.

While confrontation may not be the top skill leaders want to home in on, it is necessary for our businesses to develop and our leadership to grow. Rather than continually dodging the bullet and avoiding conflict, you can begin to learn the skill of handling controversy.

Here are five ways to learn the art of disagreeing:

1. Resolve issues quickly.

Don’t let an issue linger. The quicker you can address conflict and resolve it, the better. Many of us avoid handling problems due to fear of facing controversy or people-pleasing. When we allow conflict to ruminate, it is easy to assume a lot and develop stress and anxiety over something that we don’t even know all the details to yet. By addressing issues head-on, we avoid making problems more significant than they are, and we will be ready to tackle the next conflict that arises.

2. Take time to listen.

Make time to hear the person out. Listen to their perspective. Don’t take time thinking about what you’re going to be saying next. But instead, give them your full attention by showing them you care about their point of view.

3. Understand where they’re coming from.

Listen and practice asking open-ended questions. As author and leadership expert Simon Sinek has said, as leaders “we need to begin practicing empathy and relating to what they’re going through. And it will profoundly change the decisions we make, and it will profoundly change the way we see the world.” In disagreements, we naturally focus on our concerns and what we are going through. But if that remains our only focus, we are not taking in the other perspective.

4. Don’t use combative language.

When we use language like “you” and “us,” we are approaching a discussion combatively. We are also taking sides and being accusatory with our words. This can cause the other person to feel defensive and feel like we are working against them, rather than working with them to make the best of the situation.

5. Work on a shared resolve.

Determine before you enter the conversation that you will work toward a solution for all individuals involved. If we know our motive at the beginning is to figure this out as a team, it will impact how we navigate the conversation. By making it an issue to figure out together, there is more room for solutions and less defensiveness and combativeness.

By dealing with conflict right away, we also save ourselves and our businesses from the stress and pain of avoiding these issues. Additionally, when our teams see that we are not fearful of confrontation (or combative of it), they are naturally more inclined to want to speak with us.

We may be even more apt to avoid disagreements in the workplace than we would at home. When leaders can discover how to disagree readily and graciously, we will be more likely to deal with issues as they arise and not let them slide in all areas of life.

When we know how to navigate conflict, it will help us in all relationships in life. It will also significantly impact us to be more patient, generous and considerate to everyone around us. If you want to improve your leadership, begin to practice the skill so many avoid and start mastering the art of disagreeing.