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Conflict to Collaboration: Turn Arguments into Opportunity

Great minds don’t always think alike, and that is a good thing. If everyone’s thought process worked the same way, what would become of collaborative innovation? However, there is an art to expressing disagreement in a constructive way—as opposed to using inadvertently negative terms that can bring conflict to the workplace. 

Some employees are naturally tactful in their coworker interactions. Others are more prone to blurt first, think later. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, these 10 techniques can help you express disagreement in a way that’s helpful, rather than hurtful. 

1. Establish Common Ground

Instead of leading with your point of disagreement, start the conversation by affirming what you do agree with as well as your common goal—say, a successful project. This confirms that you’re on the same team, but happen to see things differently. 

2. Use “I” Statements, Not Declarations

Declaring flat-out that “this strategy won’t work!” or “that’s a mistake!” is a surefire way to alienate your coworkers. In contrast, leading with personal “I” or “me” statements (i.e., “for me…”) won’t come off as blanket criticism.   

3. Choose Your Battles 

Many of us have constant critics inside our heads that love picking things apart, but not all critiques are worth airing. Before speaking, ask yourself if your disagreement might result in a better outcome. If not, let it go. Similarly, if a decision was already finalized, make sure there is a positive purpose to critiquing it after the fact.  

4. Explain Why You Disagree

Always offer a valid reason for your dissent. When you present a logical business reason for doing things another way, you’re more likely to sway your coworkers—and positively affect your project’s outcome. (Don’t have a valid reason? Then it’s time to examine your reaction.)   

5. Steer Clear of “You” Statements

Workplace disagreements should not be directed to individual coworkers, but to the particular issue at hand. Therefore, refrain from statements like “you forgot to…” or “you didn’t…” as these may be taken as personal attacks. 

6. Take a Pause

If you feel yourself becoming emotional, take a timeout before you say something you may regret. According to psychologists, counting to 10 can truly help calm angry impulses. Figure out what’s really triggering you, put it aside for the moment, and return to professional mode before speaking. 

7. Listen—Really Listen—to the Other Side

Sometimes we’re so caught up in planning how we will express our opinion, we tune out what others are saying. Before speaking, listen closely and make sure you fully understand what’s being said. Some experts suggest repeating back what you heard—objectively, of course—to ensure you fully understand. 

8. Use the “Yes, and…” Verbal Technique

“But” is an argumentative word, whereas “and” is an inclusive word. Instead of launching an opposing opinion with “but…” (which can shut listeners down fast), try leading with “yes, and…” to make your point. This is a consensus-building technique designed to minimize conflict.  

9. Offer an Alternative Solution 

It’s not enough to shoot something down; you need to offer a valid alternative. Otherwise, your dissent is unproductive. Make sure you have a viable solution—and can explain why it’s a better choice.

10. Look for a Compromise

Often, the most promising solutions are those where everyone contributes something—a compromise. Look for ways to integrate the best of your team’s collective ideas into a collaboration of the minds. Success in the workplace is not about winning every debate at the expense of your coworkers, but achieving win-wins for your team and organization. 

Of course, it’s easier to disagree constructively when your culture aligns with your values. Learn four ways to nurture a strong, collaborative culture.

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