How do you handle Disagreements?



An office staff is involved in an intense meeting.  They face not achieving their yearly objectives at the pace they are going and spending way more money than was planned at the beginning of the year.  Something has to change.  The boss is already a little embarrassed as this happened on his watch, so his demeanor has changed.  His exterior is a little harder than it is normally.


He goes over the plan with his staff laying out all the details.  Come to find out. IT’S A TERRIBLE PLAN!  If this plan is put into action, it will be an epic failure.  The look of terror shrieks across the faces of the staff.  As soon as he finishes up one person says, “Um…” as if they are going to question the plan the boss has just laid out.


The boss turns and glares intensely at the employee.  It’s such an intense look his eyebrows and his eyes seem to merge into one.    Immediately, the staff member looks down to his lap and pretends he didn’t make a noise.  What would you do in this situation?


It seems that this is a no win situation and there are only two choices.


1: Silence.  You keep quiet and clam up pretending the boss has made a wise decision and secretly know the whole thing is destined to fail and are too afraid to speak up.


2: Risk Violence.  You speak up and offend the boss.  He can’t believe you questioned his authority and disrespect him. So his new agenda is not saving the company.  His new motive is to punish you. Now what?


Well let me tell you something.  These are the choices of fools.  You are better and more skilled than having to choose between these two options.  Your job is to not remain silent or risk violenceYour job is to open dialog.  When there is information that is going unsaid and unused you must be the one who gathers the information into a community pool so it can be evaluated and accepted by all parties.


This is what separates winners from losers, the skilled from unskilled, and the productive from unproductive. You don’t have to make the fool’s choice of SILENCE OR VIOLENCE.  You can become more than that.  In this situation, here’s the recommended wording I would use, “Hey boss.  Respectfully I’d like to ask your permission to open a little dialog on the subject to make sure we are all on the same page and moving in the same direction.”  Then go over any perceivable concern you think anyone (including yourself) would have.


What do you think?  I’m open to dialog.


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21 thoughts on “How do you handle Disagreements?

  1. Enna says:

    Double edged sword. Depending upon the level of agitation or frustration present it may not be a,good idea to open dialogue with emotions running so high. Maybe a reset or a time out to allow for folks to calm down. Then resume dialogue.

  2. Great post. Unfortunately, those options are the ones so often demonstrated. But you are right, there are great ways to have healthy dialogue. A couple of resources, I’m sure your aware of are: “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson and company, and “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. Thanks for the post!

  3. Thank goodness you kept going after the two options! I was like- wait! Lol. I may run the company, but couldn’t do it without open dialogs between me and my boss and me and my coworker. My boss tends to be defensive (to put it mildly) and I’ve learned what communication style he prefers and by addressing him in the right manner, he is more open to changing his scope and outlook. It’s all about paying attention to how others communicate with you and approaching them appropriately. Great post!

  4. Excellent topic to bring up. Conflict management has to be addressed in the business world globally. Think about a conflict arising when you are immersed into a different culture. That takes skill and constant development. This would be a great topic to dialog very meaningfully on.

  5. Rajiv says:

    This is really excellent. I shall keep this in mind. My style, and it has got me into lots of trouble, is to jump up and say, “I disagree”, with a sneer on my face.

    I shall keep this in mind!

  6. melodylowes says:

    Living and operating out of choices is a powerful thing. Too long I have remained silent, in order to not ‘rock the boat’. But as you say, there are more ways to get the talk flowing than being belligerent. Good post.

  7. Bar Science says:

    I would leave it alone. Through personal experience, I have learned that the only thing worse than getting on your boss’s bad side is being right.

  8. jamestollefson says:

    I was just recently in a similar situation. I’m pretty junior in my weekday administrative role, so I don’t have the clout to just stand up and start shooting people’s plans down. Instead I try to ask ‘innocent’ leading questions in the hope that someone else in the room will come to the same conclusions that I have on their own. I don’t know if there is a name for this sort of passive-aggressive behavior, but I do know that in a very political environment direct confrontation is not conducive to getting things done. You said Silence or Violence are the choices of fools, and I completely agree.
    The flip side of this problem is when as a junior employee you are responsible for creating a plan or policy and then more senior individuals pass judgement on its merits, often without actually reading it. In this situation as well I find it best to be suggestive rather than direct in expressing myself.
    Just a technique. I’m curious to know what other folks do in these sorts of situations.

  9. Good post and yes, our job is to open dialog, completely agree.
    However I have come across bosses who resist suggestions / contrarian views in a meeting, but would gladly take it when you bring it up with them on a private 1 on 1 meeting.
    The option I would take largely depends on the organization culture.
    If its a place where people normally go with the boss / fall in line, I would first look to take the boss’s buy in on the idea, in a 1 on 1 with him, and then have him move it.
    In my opinion, meetings are a bad place to disagree with your boss since the resistance levels are higher.

    • Very true. A lot of superiors are easier to work with on a one on one basis, so they don’t feel you are disrespecting them or trying to lead an angry mob with pitch forks against him. But either way if someone can open dialog and ask good questions, whoever answers the questions regardless of how simple, the idea becomes theirs.

  10. You are absolutely right.

    It is more constructive to take the risk to speak up and have that heated debate – which in it self gets everyone thinking further than to just stay silent and have the whole boat sink later.

    This isn’t even about the fool’s choice. It is on whether the manager has the personal esteem to voice up to what he think is right.
    He will choose the socially acceptable behaviour to stay silent and agree if his esteem is low and chooses to seek validation of himself through the acceptance of his boss and peers.

    Good leaders must seek to remove this group-think behaviour in their meetings and encourage open constructive discussions and debates.

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