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Fostering Constructive Disagreement: A Guide for Team Leaders and Team Members

[fa icon="calendar"] 12/14/23 10:25 AM / by Deb Cullerton


We all know that feeling – you're in a team meeting, and suddenly, passionate opinions start flying back and forth. While it can feel overwhelming, diverse perspectives can actually lead to fantastic innovation and problem-solving. It's those disagreements that, if managed well, can bring about the best decision-making. To help you navigate these situations, we've put together a guide for both team leaders and team members on how to disagree constructively. Grab a cup of coffee, and let's dive in.

Understanding the Principle:

 "You can disagree, but don't be disagreeable".  It sums up a concept that promotes open communication while maintaining respect. It encourages you to talk openly about differing opinions without resorting to unproductive behaviors or harsh words.

For Team Leaders:

Create a Safe Space:

It's crucial to create an environment where everyone feels safe to express their opinions. When your team members know that their input is valued and won't cost them their dignity, they'll be more likely to engage in constructive disagreements.

Lead by Example:

Show your team that you actively listen, respect, and appreciate their opinions. Resist the urge to get defensive or dismissive when someone disagrees.  If this is not your sweet spot, you may want to prepare yourself ahead of time to be on your best behavior.  

Set Some Ground Rules:

To keep things smooth, lay down some communication guidelines for your team. These can include active listening, not interrupting others, and using "I" statements to express opinions. These rules help prevent disagreements from turning into harmful conflicts.

Encourage Constructive Dialogue:

I often hear people say, "I disagree" to begin a dialogue.  It's unnecessary and pushes the other team member to begin preparing their defense.  Teach your team how to criticize constructively. They should focus on the idea or issue itself, rather than the person who brought it up. Encourage questions, clarifications, and alternative solutions.

For Team Members:

Respect is Key:

When you disagree with someone, always do it with respect. Steer clear of snarky comments, personal attacks, or dismissive behavior.  Remember, differing opinions can bring about better solutions if handled well.

Be an Active Listener:

Before responding to disagreements, make sure you're truly listening to the other person's perspective. Ask questions and be curious.  This shows respect and ensures that your response is well-informed.

Speak from Your Perspective:

Use "I" statements when expressing disagreement. For example, instead of saying, "You're wrong" or "you're missing the point," try, "I see it differently because. . ."

Be Open to Change:

Standing by your convictions is great, but be open to the idea that you might be wrong—adapting your viewpoint when warranted signals maturity and commitment to the team's success.  

In Conclusion:

By embracing the mantra "You can disagree, but don't be disagreeable," both team leaders and members can create a more harmonious and productive work environment. Following these guidelines will allow your team to tap into the power of differing opinions, drive innovation, creativity, and success. And always remember, disagreements can be opportunities for teams to grow more trust if approached with the right mindset and behavior. Keep growing!



Deb Cullerton

Written by Deb Cullerton

Managing Partner at PMA and passionate about developing leaders