Increasing Organizational Trust

3 Ways to Disagree Without Sounding Disagreeable


Good leaders can develop bad habits.  With careless phrasing, they can give the impression that others’ opinions are invalid.  The result?  This poor communication may harden into habit, causing good employees to exit, feeling as though their contribution no longer matters.

Sift Arrogance From Your Phrasing

Arrogant statements like these build a wall:

––“The truth of the matter is ….”

––“The reality of the situation is that ….”

––“What’s really going on here is ….”

––“If you really want to know the truth about all this, it’s that ….”

Adding a touch of humility in the phrasing builds relationships and engagement:

––“I hear what you’re saying. My experience has been different….”

––“My understanding is that…”

––“The way I see it is that …”

––“My impression of what’s happening here is  …”

––“What I’m interpreting in this situation is …”

––“From my point of view, you could …”

––“What do you see as a next step?”

––“What I suggest is …”

––“You could be right. On the other hand, …”

Invite Them to Collaborate and Own the Idea

If you have kids, you understand the concept of giving ownership. You pay for the toys, the clothes, or the car, and your kids fail to take care of them. They lose them, leave them out in the weather, or lend them to a careless friend. But when your children buy the toy, clothes, or car out of their own hard-earned cash, they safeguard them, protect them, and pay attention to who touches them.

The principle that “people value what they create” applies to ideas as well as to items.

Collaborating to influence has become a fundamental leadership skill. On every front, leaders put forth “draft” ideas and then ask, “What am I missing?” “Where are the fatal flaws?” “What kind of push-back will we get?” They expect the ideas to come pouring in from their staff and colleagues. 

Successful corporate leaders understand the idea of collaboration to launch new ideas or reshape thinking.

Guide With Questions Rather Than Statements

Be known for the questions you ask—not just for the answers you give. Questions serve four primary roles for leaders. Questions––

  • surface information you need to know in order to change someone’s thinking or behavior
  • identify roadblocks and resistance to change
  • lead to the conclusion, insight, or action you want
  • soften directives and make them more palatable

Statements imply that you have all the answers and will control the interaction. Questions imply that the other person’s input has value and can alter the discussion so that you arrive at a mutually agreeable decision or action.

I recently overheard a mother using a series of questions to lead her 16-year-old to trade in an older model sports car for a newer sedan, not quite the model the teen had in mind: What kind of gas mileage do you get in the sports car? What kind of mileage does the Kelly Blue Book estimate for the sedan? So at the current price of gas, how much would you save on gas per year with the newer car? If you sold your used sports car and invested that money until graduation, plus the gas money you’d save between now and graduation, how much money would you have to buy a brand new car for college?

The teen opted to save for the newer car at graduation.

Disagreement can be productive, healthy, and necessary at times. But if you can arrive at the same goal without confrontation, why take the rougher road?

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