Successful communication in English requires that your listener hears what you have to say. Therefore, if you want to disagree with someone, it’s important for you as the English speaker to disagree politely. This goes for when you disagree:
- at work with a boss, an employee, or a customer.
- at school, with other students who you may debate with.
- in your personal life, when you disagree with and debate a family member or friend.
So how can you do this without giving offense?
Stay calm at all times
Being hot-headed makes us say things that we might not ordinarily say. Try to keep your emotions out of the situation, even if you feel the other person isn’t necessarily following these tips.
Listen while the other person speaks
Remember when you are disagreeing with someone or they are disagreeing with you, especially in the work environment, it’s often not personal. Therefore listen to what they say, respect their opinion and politely disagree. It’s amazing what you discover about people’s opinions and motivations when you listen. If you end up disagreeing with someone it will soften the blow for them if you showed them the courtesy of listening to their point-of-view carefully before speaking.
Choose your words carefully
There is more than one way of wording something. Think carefully before opening your mouth. Could what you’re about to say cause offense? Is there a more diplomatic way of saying it?
Modal verbs such as ‘can’ or ‘could’ or hedging words and phrases, immediately softens any question. Using indirect statements and questions can also make things sound less harsh. Finally using the word ‘just’ helps to play down whatever you’re about to say (as if to say ‘it’s not a big deal’).
Example: “Can I just check, did you say that report would be finished this week?”
Be conscious of the tone of your voice
Always remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. An abrupt and disagreeable manner and body language can make you seem aggressive. Always have a smile on your face and even if you don’t like what they have to say, try not to take it personally. Don’t let your body language give you away.
Avoid direct blame or criticism
It’s possible to point out a problem or address criticism without directly blaming someone else. You couldcushion your point with praise, soften what you’re saying or offer an alternative suggestion.
Example: “That spreadsheet is fantastic. It’s so useful. It might be just my eyes, but I find that yellow text quite difficult to read? Do you think blue would work?”
That’s more likely to get a favorable response than: “Why have you used yellow text? Nobody can read it.”
If it’s said sincerely, sorry is a very powerful little word and can help to make any disagreement more polite.
Example: “I’m sorry, but I think John’s suggestion would probably work best.”
Allow time to cool off
If you find your discussion starts to get heated or is going round in circles, suggest talking about another subject and returning to the controversial topic later when both parties can start afresh. Of course, if it’s your boss who you’re in discussions with, you don’t really have the authority to set the agenda.
It goes without saying that disagreeing with someone in the workplace has the potential to land you in hot water if you don’t approach it properly. But if you keep the tips above in mind, hopefully you shouldn’t have any problems.
Need to Know Words
hot-headed (adj) – having an impetuous or quick-tempered nature
respect (n) – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
motivation (n) – a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way
diplomatic (adj) – of or concerning diplomacy
harsh (adj) – cruel or severe
abrupt (adj) – brief to the point of rudeness; curt
aggressive (adj) – behaving or done in a determined and forceful way
cushion (vb) – soften the effect of an impact on
sincerely (adv) – in a sincere or genuine way
afresh (adv) – in a new or different way
to be in hot water (id) – It means: to be in a dangerous situation, or a difficult situation where you are likely to be punished. For example: I told her not to send that email, but she wouldn’t listen to me, and now she’s in hot water.
Polite Disagreement Phrases
Polite ways to tell your listener that you are disagreeing include:
- “Well,…” (softens what you are about to say)
- “Actually,…” (softens what you are about to say)
- “From my perspective,…”
- “I have a completely different opinion.”
- “Sorry, but I have to disagree with that.”
- “I respectfully disagree.” (A bit more formal).
- “I beg to differ.”
- “I respect your point, but…”
- “Let’s agree to disagree.”