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How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You

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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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You

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

9

Key Ideas

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

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The art of disagreement

Mastering the art of considerate disagreement means expressing your beliefs without shutting down the discussion or angering the other side.

For this to happen, you have to listen more, be willing to change your perspective on disagreement and learn to better your arguments.

Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”

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Paul Graham's disagreement hierarchy

  • DH0. Name-calling: the lowest level of argument.
  • DH1. Ad hominem: attackung the person rather than the point they are making.
  • DH2...

Why Interviewers Ask It

This introductory question serves as an icebreaker to lend an easy flow to the conversation. It helps the recruiter to get to know you in terms of hard and soft skills.

It’s a great op...

How to build your response

  • Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and possibly a recent achievement.
  • Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or mention a past experience that’s relevant to the job and company you’re applying for.
  • Future: Continue with what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this job.
You do not have to respond in this order. Tweak it to suit you. Make sure to tie it to the job and company.

Tailor Your Answer

Interviewers want to know how your answer about yourself is relevant to the position and company you’re applying for.

This is an opportunity to articulate why you’re interested and how your objective fulfills their goals. In order to do that, spend some time researching the company. If your answers resonate with them, it shows that you really understand the role.

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