How to Disagree without Stifling Discussion


“I have a good team,” commented a leader.  “But, one member, a high performer, often shuts down our discussions.”

“What do you mean?”

“He speaks authoritatively, often raising his voice, and acts as if his opinion is superior.” 

“Do other team members ever disagree?”

“Rarely.  When someone occasionally disagrees, the aggressive member responds with data, quotes, and historical incidents to drive his point home.”

I think it effective for team members to engage in passionate, challenging discussions.  But there is a fine line between fruitful discussions and win-lose debates.

Win-lose statements include:  “You are wrong!”  “That would be a big mistake!” “You have left out important data!”  “Your suggestion will not work!”  “That has already been tried!”

Such statements are likely to dampen free-flowing exchanges because they set up debates where one wins by proving the other wrong. 

Consider expressing disagreements with phrases such as:  “I’d like to offer another way of looking at this.”  “I don’t fully understand how you arrived at your position.”  “Can you fill me in with more background information?”  “I’d like to hear others’ opinions.  We can evaluate later.”

For engaging team discussions, it is important to create a tone of exploring options before evaluating and selecting.

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