How to Disagree at Meetings in a Positive and Productive Way

Your colleagues value your opinion so don't be afraid to share it. Here's how to do it productively.
January 19, 2012

How many times have you sat in a meeting thinking, "This is all wrong"? How many times have you disagreed with something, but not spoken up, for fear of making waves, rocking the boat, holding things up or being viewed as the naysayer? How many times have you wanted to disagree but were afraid to in front of others? And how many times have you left the meeting upset at yourself for not speaking your mind?

Are there ways to disagree at meetings in a positive and productive way?

Joel Garfinkle, one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S., has something to say about it in his book Getting Ahead: Three Steps To Take Your Career To The Next Level.

"Sharing your opinions during meetings—even if they are contrary to what others might be saying—is necessary for others to see you as part of the conversation," he advises. "If you don’t plan to speak, then why even attend the meeting? You are there to take part in a collaborative process that involves various individuals—yourself included—stating their points of view. People add to what others are saying, and ultimately reach a solution, direction, result or action plan. Speaking allows you to become a part of that mix by adding to the conversation."

"People only become aware of your experience, knowledge capital, and expertise if you share at meetings," he continues. "If you don’t share your knowledge, everyone misses out. You’re shortchanging the meeting—and the entire organization—by not contributing. Your coworkers lose because they don't get the benefit of your opinions and knowledge. They miss out on the suggestions and valuable information you could potentially share. Good leaders want people who disagree. They want to be challenged with counter opinions."

Here are five tips he gives for how to disagree at meetings in a positive and productive way:

Share your knowledge so others benefit

Speak up to share your knowledge and expertise, and don’t let the fears of disagreement stop you. Make yourself a part of the conversation. People want to hear what you have to say.

Mirror the person who is disagreeing

When the person who disagrees with you speaks, make sure to respond by repeating what he or she has said word for word. For example, "Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you are saying is…" This helps people feel as though others have heard and understood them. Once they’re under the impression that others are listening to and understanding them, they are then able to listen more carefully to what you have to say.

Validate the person who is disagreeing

As you respond with a conflicting opinion, first explain to the person that you understand what he or she is saying with a phrase such as "It makes sense to me that…" Your ability to acknowledge and validate divergent opinions has more than one benefit. It helps you understand more fully the point of view that is different from your own. And it lowers people’s defenses so that they are open to what you have to say.

Be prepared for contrary viewpoints

Before attending a meeting in which disagreement might occur, imagine some potential reasons why others might question your point of view. Then come up with sound and logical arguments to counter these viewpoints.

Know why your ideas must be heard

Realize that you’re an important part of the company and that you have expertise and experience that other people value. When you share, you elevate the conversation to another level. Don’t do the company or yourself a disservice by keeping your opinions to yourself.

"Remember," states Joel, "You’re adding your opinion to take part in the conversation and, ultimately, to help find a solution. Once you understand this, you’ll be able to eliminate the need to first gather all the facts before speaking and you will fear rejection less."