By Courtney McIlvoy

Learning how to confidently and tactfully disagree is an evolving process that, if mastered, can carry significant implications for both your future career and relationships.  Despite its impact, difference of opinion is still discouraged within many organizations. People use the term ‘playing the devil’s advocate’ to shift focus from themselves, as though expressing disagreement is a faux pas that needs to be justified.

The authors of New York Times bestseller “Crucial Conversations” argue that innovation and improvement are driven by differences in opinion and that disagreement should be celebrated, not punished. They conclude that it is more than possible to assertively disagree with someone, while maintaining mutual respect.

Two key takeaways within the “Crucial Conversations” framework are titled ‘Learn to Look’ and ‘Make it Safe.’ Below are some tips to implement these principles in your daily life, whether professionally or personally:

When entering a difficult conversation, it is easy to become wrapped up in your own perspective: what you’re saying, what you’re thinking, and which outcomes you desire. Due to this tendency, we can miss signals that the other party feels emotionally unsafe in the conversation. When people do not feel safe while engaging in dialogue, they typically turn to silence or violence.

  • Silence: masking, avoidance, or withdrawing. If you tend to sugarcoat negative feedback or avoid disagreement completely, you may be “silent.”
  • Violence: labeling, controlling, and attacking. These are the people whose first reaction to conflict is to aggressively lean into it

Mastering the art of not only noticing these tendencies in yourself, but also in other people, is a critical first step to engaging in healthy conflict. Learn to look at the conditions of your conversation!

Normally, people feel unsafe because of a perceived lack of mutual respect or purpose. When faced with this situation, “Crucial Conversations” advises us to: apologize when necessary, create a mutual purpose, and use contrasting.

Contrasting begins with a statement about what you don’t want and ends with a statement about what you do want. For example, “I don’t want you to think you are disliked. However, I do want us to talk about your punctuality issue so that our business can run more efficiently.” This is a very effective method to correct a misunderstanding. Once you notice that someone is turning to silence or violence, re-establish mutual respect and purpose to make it safe!

I highly recommend the book “Crucial Conversations” to encourage healthy conflict in your organization. The two takeaways, or ‘levers,’ listed above are the foundation of the “Crucial Conversations” principles and can guide you through the most difficult of conversations, both at work and in your personal life.

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