Communicating: Building Consensus - The Art of Successful Disagreement

You're in the midst of a business meeting listening to an idea you think is completely the wrong approach. You're about to speak up but you remember what happened with the last person on your team who did that: she was branded as "difficult to get along with" and the dreaded "not-a-team-player" label. Is it possible to say what you really think and still be considered a "team player" in the collaboration-prized environment of the modern business enterprise?

Learning how to disagree with people is an important communication skill for all business people. Although Shakespeare wrote All's Well that Ends Well it's not necessarily just the outcome that matters in business. Being able to successfully build consensus, persuading people that your point of view is the correct one, can be the best strategy to influence outcomes and win friends along the way. Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • A Matter of Words

  • "Focusing" or "Reframing" is always a good approach when you want to make changes but don't want it to seem like you're proposing a contrary position. "Fine-tuning", "Tweaking", and "Adjusting" all work well too. Avoid judgmental words like "Wrong" or "Lame."

  • Not the Right Time

  • No one likes to have their ideas or proposals attacked so instead don't use an all-out assault. Perhaps "it's a great idea" but just "not for this particular situation."

  • Build Up to Your Rationale

  • This is the time to use an inductive approach: start with an explanation of your knowledge or experience so listeners understand your reasoning before questioning what others have proposed.

  • Offer Alternatives

  • Remember when your mother told you "if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all?" That's true in business too. If you have nothing to offer other than negative opinions of what others said before, come up with an alternative before voicing your opinion.

  • Be Modest

  • In All's Well That Ends Well, Mr. Shakespeare also penned "it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass" and that's true in nearly all business communication. Establish your credibility discreetly to earn the respect of your colleagues with what you have to say, not by telling them how much you know.
  • Speaking up can not only demonstrate your thinking and commitment to your peers, it can also begin carving a path where you'll be respected as more of a leader and less of a follower. Just be sure to do it with an approach that effectively persuades your audience that your way is the right way without alienating your listeners along the way.