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How to Disagree Agreeably

The best ways to compromise, clear the air, and fight fair.

By Eric Messinger
Illustration of co-workers disagreeingRoss MacDonald

How to Disagree With Your Boss

Disagreements: You’re being overlooked for promotion; you think a client should be handled differently; you don’t like the coffee in the office pantry.

 What to consider: Your financial security may well depend on your ability to get along with this person. If you disagree with a policy, start by saying something positive, says Evans. “You’re not there to attack,” she says. “You might say, ‘You know how much I value your leadership, and I want to speak openly and honestly with you.’ ” Be sure to end the conversation as respectfully as you started it, by thanking her for listening. And, for heaven’s sake, be concise: “People get going and then make the mistake of going over the line,” says Marjorie Brody, a workplace-communication expert in Philadelphia and the author of 21st Century Pocket Guide to Proper Business Protocol (Career Skills Press, $20, “Make your point, and know when to stop.”

 When to defer: In the end, almost always, assuming you like getting that paycheck. One exception: if you have a good track record or a friendly relationship with your boss and can lobby her to your side.

 Rule to remember: Be respectful. You don’t have to grovel, but you do need to bring respect to every interaction, Evans says.

How to Disagree With Your Coworkers

Disagreements: Who is to blame for the presentation that tanked; what tack should be taken with a new project; why you’re so much more competent than they are (not that you can actually say this).

 What to consider: “Your ability to get things done at work almost always depends on other people,” Zucker says. “Disagreeing in an abrasive manner that puts people off can really hurt your career.” So rather than arguing, say something like “I see your perspective on this, but…,” Zucker suggests. If a coworker feels you have really listened, she will be more likely to work with you on producing the best possible solution―whether it’s yours, hers, or some kind of compromise.

 When to defer: If your colleague is managing a project and you’re executing just one task. If you feel the project has gone woefully awry under her tutelage, offer a suggestion for plan B.

 Rule to remember: Speak to common interests. “Find the common interest so you can agree more quickly about what’s needed,” Zucker says.
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