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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cristina DiPietropolo

Disagreement and Power

Even the best leaders will eventually hit a point where their plan isn’t the best one for various reasons. When this happens, it can be a point of concern for the people around them, especially those who are not at the same level of power. Speaking up in the face of senior leadership can be intimidating, but it is also a practice that is important for any company. In this article, we will explore how to respectfully disagree with those in positions of power.


Consider the Risks of NOT Speaking Up

Our natural bias is to imagine that things will go wrong if we disagree with our leader.[1] To understand the importance of speaking up, you must consider what will happen if you don’t do it. Failing to speak up can have long-term effects on you, your team, and the business as a whole. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will failing to speak up result in a less effective solution?

  • Will failing to speak up mean that a decision is made without the whole picture?

  • Will failing to speak up cause problems or bottlenecks in the solution process?

Be Respectful in Your Dissent

Any time you disagree with someone in a position of power, it is important to be respectful. When you demonstrate respect while disagreeing, you offer an alternate point of view without notably upsetting the power balance in place. This is more likely to open the door for a discussion rather than create a problem.[2]


Tips for Being Respectful:

  • Avoid telling the individual that they are “wrong.”

  • Offer helpful solutions and reasoning behind them.

  • Ask the individual to consider some details that you think might influence the decision.

  • Avoid using a rude or dismissive tone.

Ask for—and Earn—Permission to Disagree

Psychological safety is a sense of safety that empowers people to speak up at work, knowing that they won’t be punished.[3] When you demonstrate that you have the knowledge needed to handle a situation and respectfully address it with those above you, you will have the permission to disagree.[2]


Tips for Earning Permission to Disagree:

  • Explain that you have a different opinion and ask if you can voice it.[1]

  • Don’t assume that disagreeing is going to damage your relationship or career — the consequences are not as dramatic as we think they are.[1]

  • Demonstrate through your behavior and progress that you are knowledgeable enough to offer different solutions.

  • Acknowledge that the person in charge is going to make the final decision.

Learn to Appreciate Disagreement

Disagreement can be uncomfortable, but if you can get comfortable with it, you will push your whole team forward. When we disagree with one another, we learn more about the situation as a whole—and how to communicate better.


Tips for Getting Comfortable with Disagreement:

  • Stop trying to “win” the argument.

  • Sit back and listen to their point of view.

  • Be open to discussing problems with your plan as well.

  • Focus on finding the best solution, regardless of who comes up with it.

Conclusion

It is easy to be intimidated by those in a position of power over you, but this should not stop you from speaking up. When the entire team works together, better solutions can be found in the end. Remember to be respectful while disagreeing and try to get comfortable with disagreeing with people at all levels. It will help you and your company in the long run and boost your confidence too!

Dr. Cristina Rosario DiPietropolo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Leader Essentials Group, an executive consulting firm focused on organizational effectiveness. Extensive experience across multiple industries and highly skilled in the areas of strategic planning, organizational behavior, human resource management, change management, leadership, and digital marketing. Over ten years of teaching experience as a Visiting Professor of Management, with a special focus on leadership in entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, and international management.

_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Gallo, A. (201). How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-to-disagree-with-someone-more-powerful-than-you. [2] Grenny, J. (2014). How to Disagree with Your BJoss. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-to-disagree-with-your-boss. [3] Leading Effectively. (2021). What is Psychological Safety at Work? CCL. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/what-is-psychological-safety-at-work/.

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