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Workplace conflict is common. Successful organizations find ways to turn conflict into understanding, teamwork and innovation.

Workplace Disagreements Are Unavoidable But Can Be Game-Changing

There is plenty of advice on how a boss should treat employees but not very much advice on how an employee should respectfully disagree with a boss.

In an article in Forbes, Career coach Caroline Castrillon offers strategies on how to disagree respectfully with your boss. Step one, she advises, is careful preparation to “avoid damage to your reputation or appear insubordinate”.

Castrillon, who specializes in coaching professional women, cites data from The Myers-Brigg Company indicating workplace conflict has doubled since 2008. “As it turns out, poor communication is the number one cause of conflict,” she writes. “Conflict is a healthy part of relating to other people. But it can be tricky at work – especially if you disagree with your boss.”

“Maybe your manager announces his next great idea, and you think it’s destined for failure. Or you may have received a performance review rating that you vehemently disagree with,” Castrillon explains. “Whatever the scenario, you never want to burst into your boss’ office and scream at the top of your lungs, ‘You’re absolutely wrong!’”

Careful preparation involves a strategic decision. “Consider whether you want to confront your boss or keep quiet,” she advises. “A key reason to openly disagree with your manager is when it benefits the overall organization. If you can show your boss that you have the company’s best interests in mind, a difference of opinion can be a win-win for both of you.”

Choosing your battle is the first step in deciding whether and how to disagree with the boss. A good place to start, Castrillon says, is understanding why you disagree, which can inform the approach you take in expressing your disagreement.

Timing is also an important consideration. “Pick a time when your manager is relaxed and not dealing with the latest work crisis,” Castrillon recommends. “Then, make an appointment with them in advance. It’s best to meet in a private setting so you can speak freely without interruptions.”

Your disagreement may gain more traction with the boss if you provide credible support for your view. Make a professional presentation in support of what you recommend. In consequential disagreements, seek out third-party review to buttress your position.

Castrillon advises being passionate but not emotional. “Passion helps bring your message to life,” she says. “Just don’t get overly emotional to the point that you become frazzled and lose focus.”

Be Ready to Listen
Be prepared to listen to push back from the boss and don’t be defensive if they disagree with your disagreement. “Present your arguments and listen to what your manager has to say. Ask questions to gain clarity,” Castrillon explains. “There may be facts that you were unaware of or something new you can learn. Who knows, you may discover by the end of the conversation that you do agree with your boss after all.”

The goal at the end of a conversation over a disagreement is to have a honest exchange. “Make it clear you’re not trying to undermine their efforts,” Castrillon says. “They will appreciate your honesty, and it may even strengthen your professional relationship.”

Workplace conflict is nothing to fear. Always make the best of it

Managing Workplace Disagreement
Not all workplace disagreements are between employees and bosses. Disagreements can occur just as often with a co-worker. Many times such disagreements erupt during crunch time on a project. One study found that a typical U.S. worker averages 2.8 hours per week dealing with a workplace conflict.

When a conflict arises, it’s important to address it immediately and not let it fester. To understand the source of the conflict, first sort our whether it’s an actual disagreement or a misunderstanding based on a communication failure. Active listening skills come in handy to discover the true source of the conflict.

Serious and substantive disagreements merit more than a meeting on the fly. Responses might include a meeting to air differences and brainstorm possible alternative approaches. Treat such meetings as serious, not corporate babysitting. Even if disagreements aren’t fully resolved, getting agreement to mov forward is a victory.

Disagreements stemming from harassment, unfair treatment or a negative work environment require enlisting human resources support to validate concerns, identify improvements and train managers.

Effective conflict resolution in the workplace can save money, relieve workplace stress, help employee retention and improve co-worker relationships. It also can support improved productivity and innovation.

“Workplace conflict is nothing to fear,” says Kiely Kuligowski, a staff writer for Business News Daily. “When you address it appropriately with strong communication strategies, it can be a learning experience for everyone. Finding reliable, consistent ways to resolve conflict can improve your company culture, work quality and everything in between. No, conflict isn’t avoidable, but you can always make the best of it.”

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw