How to Tactfully Disagree with Someone

Disagreements are inevitable. So what should we do? Keep our mouths shut or say what we think? And if we speak up, what should we say? Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, has the answers.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #349

Use Softer Words to Disagree

Choose words that soften the blow. Instead of “I don’t get what you’re saying,” try “I don’t quite get what you mean.” And don’t say, “You don’t understand.” Try instead, “Perhaps I’m not explaining myself well enough” or "Can you tell me why you think that way?"

Choose words that soften the blow. 

This last one is a great example of not pointing the finger at the other person. Instead of you words, which accuse, try I or we words, which include and soften. “You need to get this done now” is harsh. “We’re looking for a nearer completion date. How can we work to get that?” respects everyone’s needs.

Disagree by Finding Common Ground

In most disagreements, there is generally common ground where you can start. So begin by highlighting what you share, then build up from there.

“While I agree with you on <common ground>, have you considered <new point of view>?” Notice this also includes choosing softer words.

“I understand saying <summarize agreed upon point of view/common ground> about X. On this other point about X, I think...”

Words Not to Use When You Disagree

There are some things, however, you should avoid saying.

Don’t say you’re sorry! The word sorry is seriously overused, especially by women. Only use it when you’ve done something to hurt another person. Many people will say, “Sorry, I disagree.” You’re not sorry, or you shouldn’t be. Recognize that your opinion has value, so own it and respect yourself.

Don’t say “but…” This is another one that’s used all the time: “Yes, but…” or “I agree up to a point, but…” When you say but you’ve just negated everything you said before. You’ve just admitted to common ground, or you’ve just given the person a complement, then you’re taking it back by saying “but.” However is a similar word and should be used sparingly, but is less jarring than but.

Try to become comfortable using all these approaches. Diplomatic disagreement is a great way to “win friends and influence people,” and will help you in business and in life.

This is Lisa B. Marshall changing organizations, changing lives, and changing the world through better communication. If you’d like to learn more about leadership, influence, and communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.    

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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