How to Disagree Productively

Most people like to get along.  As a result, confrontation is something that most of us avoid like the plague.  I know that up until a few years ago, I would prefer telling someone indirectly something negative rather than face to face.  Sort of like taking the easy way out.

That was then.  This is now.

Like most leaders, I don't have the luxury of agreeing with people all of the time.  As they say, sometimes you have to speak the truth, even if it hurts.  The key is to do it with love.  This is not only for high-level leaders but for all people who care.  We all have moments when we really have a duty to disagree.  A mom disagrees with her son who has just been disrespectful.  A boss disagrees with the employee who has acted unethically.  It's really about principles and leadership.

As Stephen Covey says,

"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall."

In other words, leaders have to discern the proper direction of the organization and call it out when the ship is heading in the wrong direction.  This often happens through very small conversations and precise decisions.

The Trick: Conversational Bumpers

I've learned a trick to help this process.  If you are hesitant to disagree with someone or are afraid that you'll start a full-blown argument, consider this approach.  Rather than say, "I totally agree with you," why not say the following:

"Bob, I've got to push back on you a bit on this.  Here's my perspective..."

The use of the short phrase before actually disagreeing with the other person is what is called a conversational bumper.  Other bumpers include:

  • I'm not sure, in my experience the opposite has been true.

  • Maybe in some cases, but I've found that...

  • You and I may have to agree to disagree on this point...

In each case, the listener hears that you're on their side but in this particular case, you have a different point of view.  The next time you are in a position to disagree with someone, in love, try one of these bumpers and I think you'll find that your leadership expands all the more.

*photo by vanity press