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How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You

https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-to-disagree-with-someone-more-powerful-than-you

hbr.org

How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You
Your boss proposes a new initiative you think won't work. Your senior colleague outlines a project timeline you think is unrealistic. What do you say when you disagree with someone who has more power than you do? How do you decide whether it's worth speaking up?

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Be realistic about the risks

Our natural bias is to start by imagining all the things that will go horribly wrong if we disagree with someone more powerful. Yes, your counterpart might be a little upset at first, but most likely you are not going to get fired or make a lifelong enemy. 

Consider the risks of not speaking up first, then realistically weigh those against the potential consequences of taking action.

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Decide whether to wait

You may decide to hold off voicing your opinion if you want to gather your army first. People can contribute experience or information to your thinking — all the things that would make the disagreement stronger or more valid. 

Also, delay the conversation if you’re in a meeting or other public space. Discussing the issue in private will make the powerful person feel less threatened.

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Identify a shared goal

Before you share your thoughts, think about what the powerful person cares about. You’re more likely to be heard if you can connect your disagreement to a “higher purpose.” 

State it overtly then, contextualizing your statements so that you’re seen not as a disagreeable underling but as a colleague who’s trying to advance a shared goal. 

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Ask permission to disagree

It’s a smart way to give the powerful person “psychological safety” and control. 

You can say: “ I have reasons to think that won’t work. I’d like to lay out my reasoning. Would that be OK?” This gives the person a choice, allowing them to verbally opt in.

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Stay calm

When your body language communicates reluctance or anxiety, it undercuts the message. 

Simply slowing the pace and talking in an even tone helps calm the other person down and does the same for you. It also makes you seem confident, even if you aren’t.

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Validate the original point

Articulate the other person’s point of view. 

Stating it clearly, possibly even better than your counterpart did, lays a strong foundation for the discussion. You want your counterpart to say: "She/He understands."

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Don’t make judgments

When you move on to expressing your concerns, watch your language carefully. Avoid any judgment words that might set off your counterpart. Share only facts.

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Stay humble

Emphasize that you’re offering your opinion, not gospel truth. Remind the person that this is your point of view, and then invite critique. This will leave room for dialogue.

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Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Explain that you have a different opinion and ask if you can voice it.
  • Restate the original point of view or decision so it’s clear you understand it.
  • Speak slowly — talking in an even tone calms you and the other person down.

Don’t:

  • State your opinions as facts; simply express your point of view and be open to dialogue.
  • Use judgment words, such as “hasty,” “foolish,” or “wrong,” that might upset or incite your counterpart.

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The Importance Of Proper Listening

With proper listening you’ll have a crystal clear understanding of the conversation and demonstrate to speakers that you’re invested in what they have to say.

Being a good listener is one of the most potent things you can do to increase your influence and likeability. It is also one of the top skills employers seek in potential and current employees, and it’s correlated with perceived ability to lead.

How To Be A Better Listener

  1. Push other activities from your mind, and be present in the discussion. This tells the other person that you’re ready for the conversation.
  2. Keep a neutral expression that simply says, “I’m listening.” We tend to physically react to what we hear and it disrupts our ability to listen and the other person’s ability to be heard. 
  3. Offer uninterrupted speaking time. Well-intended or not, interruptions makes effective communication impossible. 
  4. Repeat back succinctly and ask validating questions to make sure you heard the speaker correctly.