Stolen Teddy calls for effective disagreement. Image by Kristina Alexanderson

5 steps for Disagreeing Effectively

Julie Zhuo

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You know that feeling. Someone says something, and it strikes like a discordant note in your ear, a sharp twist in your gut, a teetering tower on the horizon.

You’re wrong! You want to shout. Your intuition, well-honed by years of thoughtful education, understands this before even your rational mind does. Something doesn’t quite sit right.

But you bite your tongue. Why? Well, you’ve tried shouting before, and it doesn’t tend to work. Besides, now your rational mind, huffing, has finally caught up, and it brings a long checklist of questions: Are you certain it’s wrong? Do you know what the right answer is? Are you sure you want to slow things down? Don’t make a fool of yourself! Be a team player!

Before you know it, the moment has passed, and you’ve said nothing. And you don’t say anything later either, because ultimately, disagreeing is hard. It is a risk to put yourself out there and force a confrontation. You could be wrong, or worse, you could be labeled disagreeable.

But constructive disagreement is a good thing. In fact, it is imperative for teams that want to get the best results. And it is one of the most empowering skills one can learn, because it enables your voice to be heard and have impact. In the process of writing my book, The Making of a Manager,” I put together a framework to break down the process of resolving a disagreement into these five steps.

1. Know your position

The first step to disagreeing well is to know where you stand and why. So often, I’ll see a design and have a gut reaction “I don’t like this.” But if I can’t figure out why or articulate the reason to myself, I have no business trying to explain it to someone else.

Before doing anything else, see if you can complete this sentence: “I [don’t agree with/don’t think we should do/don’t like] X because…”

Your answer doesn’t have to be right. But you first need to have an answer and feel good about it.

2. Get a gut check

This step is optional, but it’s so simple and effective you should always consider it. Before putting stating your disagreement loudly, see if your position resonates with a few trusted confidants. For example, say…

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Julie Zhuo

Building Sundial (sundial.so). Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager. Find me @joulee. I love people, nuance, and systems.