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Learning how to (dis)agree is key to success

In today’s business world, it is imperative to be able to disagree while still being able to display tact and professionalism.

My coaching clients often find themselves in situations where they need to disagree with colleagues, direct reports or their bosses. Yet they need to collaborate with and rely on these same people to get work done.

For them, like most of us, it makes a difference how you tell someone with whom you have an important relationship that you disagree. That’s why learning how to disagree agreeably is one of the most helpful techniques I know. It allows honest and earnest dialogue to occur without damaging important relationships.

Here are five simple steps to disagreeing with tact:

First, listen. Avoid cutting people off. Never let your first response to people with whom you disagree be telling them that they are wrong. Instead, hear out your conversation partners. Reasonable people don’t need to always get their way, but they do want to be heard.

Second, acknowledge other ideas by saying something like, “I hear what you are saying,” or, “You have some points that make sense,” or, “I hear where you are coming from” or perhaps, “I haven’t thought about it that way.”

When speaking, be aware of your body language. Your words need to match your actions. Even slight, adverse, non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture can undermine your statements. If you roll your eyes or cross your arms while acknowledging the other person, he or she won’t believe that you’re being truthful.

Third, pause briefly. This is a small but important step. Use silence effectively. Don’t immediately start with a “but,” a “however” or a “nevertheless.” These negative filler words cancel out what you’re trying to do: hear them out. These words often put people on the defensive and break down communication.

Fourth, state your idea, opinion or point of view by starting with phrases such as “In my experience,” “Have you considered” or “The data I collected shows.”

It’s important to include evidence, facts, examples, personal experience or data to substantiate your viewpoint. You want to show that you have reasons for your differing view and that you’re not simply advancing a personal opinion with no justification. Articulate that what you have to say matters, and then state the reasons why.

Fifth, ask a question. Immediately after stating your opinion, use a question about what you just said to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction. Examples of this kind of question include, “What are your thoughts on this approach?” Or you might ask, “How might this work in your situation?”

By being able to disagree agreeably, you can preserve as well as strengthen relationships by showing others that you have heard and respected them, even when you don’t agree. And better relationships lead to better results.

Pam Solberg-Tapper

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and adventure marathoner. For questions or to submit questions or ideas for future columns, please contact her at or (218) 729-0772.