Do’s and Don’ts of Professional Disagreement

There is a 100% chance that you’re going to disagree with someone at your job or along your career path. The phrase, “Disagreement is inevitable, disrespect is optional” is a mantra of my own that I use in life and when coaching professionals, and I’m often surprised when folks tell me how much they hate voicing their opinions because it’s always going to end in an argument.

Not only is that very false, but it’s also unhealthy and a great way to enforce a toxic work environment. You can voice your professional opinion in a way that doesn’t involve you being a doormat or the office “jerk” with a few simple tips:

Don’t Always Go Into a “Feedback Sandwich”

I would like to find the person who started the idea of the “feedback sandwich” and ask them to recall it for a few years.

One of the first things people usually say when we start a conversation about feedback is, “Oh! I know all about the feedback sandwich! Put the constructive feedback in the center of two compliments.” This… is not the best idea. Some people need direct information, and by adding more sentences or ideas around it, that constructive feedback or disagreement gets lost.

Also, when you’re disagreeing with someone, starting with an affirmation often leads to the word “But” in front of your opinion – which automatically elevates it. Is your intention to elevate your opinion over someone else’s? No? Then don’t sandwich just because you read about it once in a business article.

Do Use “I” Statements

Assertive language is always a good idea in disagreements – and remember, assertiveness is not the same as aggressiveness. Being assertive means you are using an “I” statement to not only state a personal opinion, but you’re also taking care of yourself, and not at the expense of others.

If you’re making a statement in a disagreement, it’s much more effective to say “I think” or “I feel” versus “Everyone feels” or “You think” – because you aren’t everyone and you aren’t that person! By using an “I” statement, you’re speaking for yourself and only yourself.

Don’t Ignore Your Emotions

How do you feel about disagreements? Does conflict make you freeze up or stress out? Check in – take a moment right now to identify how you feel about conflict. If it stresses you out just to think about it, you probably bring that emotion into all of the conflicts you’re part of. That fight or flight feeling (or freeze, for some people) spreads to the person you’re talking to and elevates the conflict.

Think of the last time something got so blown out of proportion, and when you look back on it, you’re like, “Whoa, this was nothing, and not a big deal.” Emotions probably snuck in, got in the way, and overcomplicated things.

Be aware of what you’re bringing in to any conflict. If you’re emotionally involved with whatever you disagree with, your responses are going to be heightened and more so than they would if you were emotionally attached to it. Don’t ignore the emotion – by better understanding them; you’ll be more likely to either keep them in check or admit they are getting in the way of the professional disagreement staying professional.

Do Stick with Facts

This one ties into the last – when you’re paying attention to your emotions, you need to also pay attention to the facts. One of the best ways to be sure you are, indeed, aware of any biases or heightened emotions, is to pay attention to the facts.

By sticking with the facts, your “side” of the argument will be more than a rant. If you’re also using assertive language, a statement starting with “I feel” is fact – it’s how you feel, and a statement of your opinion.

Finally, and perhaps the largest Do and Don’t – do remember you and the person you’re disagreeing with are professionally connected. There’s no need to be a jerk or disrespectful. It’s better to walk away than be rude – for both of you.


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