Sep 12 Leadership Tips: Agree to Disagree
Disagreements between family members, colleagues, teammates, and even senior executives are only human. But the way many disagreements unfold is unpleasant and unproductive. That’s why many people shy away from really speaking up when they should. Disagreements are oftentimes healthy and informative, and discussing an issue from differing perspectives can strengthen our bonds of inclusive collaboration. Even if you disagree with someone who is in a more authoritative position than you are, expressing your unique point of view can be extremely helpful to everyone. Learn how to do it tactfully and successfully, and it can also fuel your career advancement.
Every organization needs executives who know how to open up the dialogue and act as strategic, creative thought leaders. That is sometimes the best way to add value to the conversation and team DNA. As a leader you need to know how and when to assert yourself. When I coach Fortune 500 executives and other organizational leaders worldwide, I encourage them to develop the powerful soft skills required to disagree with influence and positive impact. One tool is to remember my handy acronym: AGREE (Ask, Gather, Respect, Engage, and Explain). Just by keeping these key points in mind, you can masterfully guide the conversation…and navigate even sensitive situations successfully…to present your own important ideas.
You don’t want to undermine the authority of your boss or create what could wind up being an ego conflict with senior decision makers. They want to feel that they are in control and that they hold the ultimate power over any idea or proposal that you present. That’s why a smart strategy is to ask them for permission before you disagree.
Let me show you a couple of examples:
“I appreciate the logic behind this timetable, but I have some insights into why it may be in our best interest to adjust that schedule. Would it be okay for me to share those before we move forward?”
“Would it be all right for me to play devil’s advocate for a moment, just to make sure we’ve viewed our decision from every possible angle?”
Usually when you ask in that way, their curiosity will get the best of them and they’ll invite you to share whatever it is you have to say. That lets you off the hook, because they solicited your input.
Before you put your ideas out there for consideration by others, it’s important to perform some due diligence and gather information and allies. Find out how your plan will benefit specific other people, teams, departments, or stakeholders. Enlist their input to help craft your ideas and to share supportive data to bolster your conclusions or projections. By building a coalition of allies who see your idea as beneficial to their own goals and purposes, you can dramatically increase the likelihood that when you disagree and present a different plan, others will back you up.
As always, show respect for others…especially when challenging their ideas or their status quo. Those who are senior to you in your organization will be much more receptive to your thoughts if you have a track record for inclusiveness and respect for the opinions of others…even those with whom you do not agree. Plus, it’s always advantageous to be an open-minded leader who listens to all sides in order to know what’s going on with your team or organization on the DNA level.
Engage others by presenting your idea as a solution-oriented one that will make their jobs and lives easier. Whenever we hear an idea we disagree with there is the tendency to dig in our heels and resist. But if you can shape what you are trying to communicate in a way that stimulates the creative thinking of others, that adds fuel to whatever you propose. Again, that will require some research to ascertain what the needs and problems that others face are…so that whenever possible you can help connect your thought leadership to those issues with empathy and positivity and interactive collaboration.
When you’re cooking up an idea in your mind you can become so familiar with it that you take its message and key points for granted. Think of how easy it is for you to drive a car or surf the internet. You just automatically do it. But what if you had to teach someone who had never driven a car or used a computer? You’d have to put yourself in their shoes and explain it very clearly and concretely. That’s the same approach you should take when presenting a disagreement. Don’t take for granted that others with “get it” the same way you do. Break it down concisely and stay focused on the “one big idea.” Once you get a consensus agreement you can iron out the details.
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Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Deloitte, McKesson, Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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