In the world of work and office politics, disagreements are as inevitable as Monday mornings. Nonetheless, the trick lies in navigating these differences constructively, transforming them into drivers of creativity and innovation. As ambitious women in leadership roles, we need to cultivate the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. This skill not only fosters open communication, but it also enriches workplace relationships and overall team dynamics.

So, how do we find our voice and assert our perspective without ruffling feathers? Let’s take a dive into some research-backed strategies.

Listen Like You Mean It

It all starts with active listening, a skill as essential as your daily cup of coffee. According to Dr. Graham Bodie, an active listening guru, it’s all about fully “marinating in the speaker’s message” (1). So, the next time a disagreement comes your way, lend your ears generously. It not only earns you the respect card but also encourages the other person to return the favour. Talk about office karma! So, put on your listening hat and show genuine interest in what your colleague has to say – it’s your secret weapon in winning the war of words.

Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

Now, there’s a thin line between being assertive and turning into a steamroller. Remember, assertiveness is about laying out your thoughts on the table with respect and honesty, while aggression can bulldoze over the feelings of others. A leadership study by social psychologists Ames and Flynn found that assertiveness, if balanced correctly, can foster positive relationships at work (2). Just remember, the goal is to express your viewpoint, not start a verbal wrestling match.

Consider this scenario: Your team is proposing a strategy that you have concerns about. An assertive response might look something like this:

I appreciate the hard work everyone has put into this proposal. I can see its potential benefits, but I have some concerns about our projected timeline. It seems a bit optimistic, considering our current resources and other commitments. Could we perhaps reassess our schedule to ensure we can deliver on our promises without overworking the team?

In this scenario, you’re clearly stating your concerns in a respectful manner and proposing a constructive solution, thus expressing assertiveness.

In the same situation, an aggressive response might look something like this:

This proposal is unrealistic. I don’t know why we’re even considering it. The timeline is completely off, and whoever created it is out of touch with our resources and capabilities. This needs to be redone.

This response is confrontational and disrespectful. It attacks the creators of the proposal, disregards the work that has been done, and does not contribute constructively to the discussion, demonstrating aggressive behaviour.

Assertiveness maintains respect for all parties involved and seeks a solution that benefits everyone, while aggression disregards others’ feelings and contributions, potentially creating a hostile work environment.

Tap Into Your Emotional Intelligence

Ever wished for a superpower? Well, meet Emotional Intelligence (EI), your invisible office cape. Emotional Intelligence, a concept first coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey and later popularised by Daniel Goleman, has become an increasingly recognized determinant of effective leadership and productive communication. Simply put, EI is the capacity to recognize, understand, manage, and utilise emotions in oneself and others.

But how can this be practically applied in the workplace? Here’s where EI shines. Say, for example, a colleague presents a perspective that you strongly disagree with. A high EI response would involve acknowledging your own emotional response, understanding where your colleague is coming from, and using this knowledge to shape your response in a way that is both respectful and productive. It’s like having a personal emotional compass, steering you away from reactionary responses and towards thoughtful, constructive dialogue.

State Your Perspective as an “And,” not a “But”

Often in disagreements, we use “but” to present our contrasting view, however this can negate what’s been said before, triggering defensiveness. Instead, try using “and” to validate both perspectives. As leadership expert Jennifer Kahnweiler suggests in her book The Introverted Leader (3), this simple switch can steer the conversation from a confrontational path to a cooperative dialogue.

Consider this scenario: You’re discussing a marketing strategy with your team. One member suggests focusing on social media, while you believe traditional media should also be included.

Using “but”:
“I understand your point about the power of social media, but I think we’re ignoring the influence of traditional media.”

Using “and”:
“I understand your point about the power of social media, and I think we should also consider the influence of traditional media.”

In the “but” statement, your counterpoint can feel like it’s negating or dismissing the importance of social media. The “and” statement, on the other hand, acknowledges the value of social media and adds another viewpoint, fostering a more inclusive, constructive conversation.

Walk In Their Shoes

Imagine stepping into your colleague’s shoes (fashionable ones, of course) and seeing the world from their perspective. Research says this can decrease stereotyping, tone down conflicts and pave the way for collaborative problem-solving. Everyone wins!

Empathy and understanding are powerful tools when it comes to resolving conflicts and building harmonious relationships in the workplace. The ability to step into someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective can foster mutual understanding and significantly reduce conflict.

In a notable 2014 study by Eyal and Epley, researchers explored the effects of perspective-taking on interpersonal dynamics and conflict resolution (4). The findings demonstrated that when individuals actively engage in perspective-taking, they develop a deeper understanding of others’ viewpoints, leading to increased empathy and more effective communication. By mentally “trying on” different perspectives, we can broaden our horizons, challenge our assumptions, and find common ground.

So, the next time you find yourself in a disagreement with a colleague or team member, take a moment to pause and consider their viewpoint. What experiences, beliefs, or challenges might shape their perspective? By consciously embracing this empathetic approach, you open yourself up to new insights and potential solutions that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Navigating disagreements in the workplace is an art, and like all art forms, it requires practice and patience. But armed with these strategies, we can turn the tide of disagreement, making it a powerful catalyst for creativity, growth, and innovation.

Embrace disagreement as a sign of diversity in thoughts and ideas. Remember, a symphony needs each note, a masterpiece needs each colour, and a successful workplace needs each perspective. It’s all about how we choose to weave these differences into a vibrant tapestry of collaboration and success.


  1. Bodie, G. D. (2012). Listening as positive communication. In P. Lutgen-Sandvik & B. D. Sypher (Eds.), Destructive organisational communication: Processes, consequences, and constructive ways of organising.
  2. Ames, D. R., & Flynn, F. J. (2007). What breaks a leader: The curvilinear relation between assertiveness and leadership. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(2), 307.
  3. Kahnweiler, J. B. (2015). The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  4. Eyal, T., & Epley, N. (2014). How to Seem Telepathic: Enabling Mind Reading by Matching Construal. Psychological Science, 25(4), 950–959.