Agree to (Professionally) Disagree

Good teams don’t always see eye to eye. Sure, you want a team that works well together. You want a team that is driving toward common goals and embraces similar corporate values. That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to agree on how to get to the finish line. 

Good teams disagree sometimes. It’s not just healthy, it’s also productive. Having a variety of insights and different viewpoints can foster new ideas and creativity. The key is to create an environment where open discussion on varied – sometimes opposing – viewpoints can be conducted with mutual respect and openness. 

It's Not Personal

Sure, when you toss out an idea of pure brilliance, it can feel a little personal when someone comes back with reasons why it’s not viable or could be even more brilliant with their changes. It’s not personal. At least it shouldn’t be. Keep the conversation focused on the ideas and statements. Watch how you frame your feedback. Avoid comments like “No, you’re wrong.” or even, “Your idea won’t work.” Instead offer feedback such as, “I think we need to dig a little deeper into this idea. While I understand where it’s coming from, our current research doesn’t support that assumption. I’m certainly open to new data and insight if there’s been a change, of course.”  

Get On the Same Page

That’s right. Get on the same page. Sure, the idiom infers that you’re in agreement with one another, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Before you can have a constructive conversation you need to make sure you’re operating with the same set of assumptions. Start by asking questions to be sure you fully understand what the other person means and what information their assertion is based on. 

As an example, your colleague has suggested his proposed initiative will require a budget of $5,000 and you know, based on experience, that this is grossly underestimating the full cost of the proposed project. Ask your team member to clarify what their forecast includes. Perhaps they are assuming that some existing assets will be used. Maybe their understanding of required resources is different than what you envision. Maybe they’re just underestimating. You can’t really know which of those is true unless you first ask questions and understand their starting point. You can more effectively debate the proposed budget if you’re all working off the same set of assumptions and expectations. 

The Good and the Not Good

Call it a compliment sandwich if you’d like, but when you offer constructive criticism, be sure to toss in a few affirmations as well. Don’t start with “We can’t just launch a TikTok account and repurpose content from our other platforms.” That approach is likely to set your colleague on defense. Instead, open with something positive and close with an idea of how the idea may be adapted and toss in the disagreement between them. 

For example: “You’ve done a fantastic job with our Facebook and Instagram. The growth we’ve seen on both platforms is impressive and we’re beginning to see fruit in terms of lead conversation and brand recognition. I’m interested in hearing more of your ideas for TikTok and how it might suit our brand. As I understand the platform today, I don’t think we can just repurpose the content we’re using on other platforms and see success here. Let’s get a better understanding of who our potential target audience may be on TikTok and see what comparable brands are doing well. We may be able to adapt some existing content to suit the platform’s specific tone and audience or we may want to create new content specifically for that space. We should come up with a plan and then experiment with it.”

Be Quiet

Share your take on the matter and then give space to others to share their opinions. Listen to what they have to say. Really listen. Don’t formulate your refutation as they talk. Actively listen with an open mind. Be willing to be proven wrong. Be willing to find compromise. Ask questions to clarify and ensure you understand the points being made. 

Remain Professional

Sometimes you’re not going to reach a consensus and that’s okay. You don’t need to always agree. You do, however, need to reach a point where the team agrees to move forward with some cohesive plan. It may not be your plan, but once the team opts to move forward, do your part to give the project at hand the best chance to succeed within the agreed upon framework. It’s worth repeating: don’t make the debate personal and don’t undermine the process.