Top 4 Tips on How to Disagree

What do you do when you disagree with someone? And how successful is it?

Do you tell them how wrong they are? Do you run for the hills? Do you freeze and avoid it? I’ve seen and done many variations. It’s natural, right? Faced with conflict we tend to argue, avoid or freeze – classic fight, flight or freeze. Below are my favourite lead questions which typically help me move from a divided view to a more united and connected one.

  1. “That’s interesting, I’m curious about that, please tell me more…”

This question must come from a genuinely curious approach and it requires self-control and deep listening (to understand, and, with empathy). I listen, listen some more, and ask more “tell me more” questions to understand the other person’s perspective.

I often then understand why they have chosen the option they have chosen. However, as a coach, I often see people who are on autopilot, doing the best they can, given the time, cost, people pressures, their own skillset or world perspectives.

If I still disagree with the situation, strategy, chosen option, behaviours etc, I ask the following hard-hitting reality question:

  1. “How sustainable is that?”

We discuss the relevant impacts on people, culture, customer relations, values, resilience, trust, productivity, costs, environment etc.

For example, I might ask

  • “How sustainable is that in terms of employee and your own resilience?” Or
  • “How sustainable is that initiative? Will it stand the test of time when you look 6-12 months into the future? Even when you are not there?”

100% of the time when I have asked the “how sustainable is it?” question, my colleague has replied “It’s not”.

I then go back to the singularly more important and most overlooked and most unaligned question:

  1. “Let’s go back to the fundamental question, what are you really, really trying to achieve here?… What does ‘great’ look like over the next year, 6 months, 3 months etc?” “What’s the end game?” “Who needs to be on the same page?” “And how will you know that you are there?”
  1. Once we are clear on the future state, we then go through current state (root cause & contributing factors), options options options and the pros and cons of each option and then the way forward (what will you do? By when? To change from the existing options to a more sustainable and better one).

The above 4 steps are some of my favourite techniques to respectfully disagree and align on the bigger picture. However, the pre curser to its success is probably the hardest. The trickiest part is actually identifying the physiological response (internal eg. I’ve judged, my breath quickens, I lean in, I feel like I want to ask “why would you do that?” or “that’s nuts!”) and replace it with a “curious mindset”.

I’d love to hear your views or alternatives.


Post written by Kristy Fairbairn, Project Manager, STS Consulting Australia