Disagreements are not uncommon in the workplace. However, disagreements can become so passionate that they can escalate to a point where they can hurt careers. Here are five tips to help you approach arguments the right way.
1. Know the rules of engagement.
There are certain rules of engagement in a disagreement with someone over a work-related issue:
• State your reasons politely and dispassionately. A polite and calm demeanor gets you further than an angry and emotional one because the listener is focusing on your reasons rather than your demeanor. This increases the chances that the listener will consider what you are saying and lessens the chance she will dismiss your arguments as irrational and emotional. So the next time you need to confront someone over something you feel passionate about, wait and let the anger subside before bringing it up.
• Give the listener respect. Whether the listener is a member of upper management or a peer, she deserves to be spoken to respectfully. Even if you think the person is a jerk and unworthy, it is important to respect the position that the person holds. It gets the listener to believe that you are considerate of what the listener has to say to you. Others who may be participating in the conversation may be positively influenced by your demeanor and listen more carefully to your point of view.
• Sabotage almost always backfires. If lobbying for your position does not work, let it go for now. Don't get caught up in your anger and attempt to prove your point by sabotaging the winner. For instance, if you had a project that did not get priority, try being gracious and helping out in the other project. You will look like a team player and get more respect and consideration for your point of view the next time you propose something. Badmouthing a project or its sponsor can make you look petty and you will lose the respect of your management and peers. That means they will be less likely to help you in the future.
2. Pick your battles.
Know and fight only for what is important. Let little things go. An employee who complains about every small issue is labeled as uncooperative by management. And someone who complains about management directives and is unwilling to accept them may be considered insubordinate and possibly be fired. If you find yourself unhappy about most details of your job, perhaps it is better to look for another job rather than try to change or complain about every little thing that bothers you.
3. Some battles can never be won.
Understand that in the workplace, some battles can never be won and never should be fought. Here are two examples:
• Your boss's assessment of your work performance at your evaluation. Your boss may be a real jerk and extremely incompetent. You may be star performer in your eyes and the eyes of clients. But work performance is usually exclusively evaluated by your supervisor. You may stand little chance of changing your boss's mind and almost no chance of getting any other manager to intervene to change your boss's evaluation of you. If you and your boss disagree on your performance, it may be better for you to find another boss to work for.
• Trying to change corporate policies when you have not been assigned a job that would allow you to do so. You may think that the company's policies stink and that you know how to manage better than present management. But unless you are in a policy-making job, save your energy. You may be not only ignored but also perceived as an uppity, unhappy employee.
4. Be ready with backup.
You are more likely to be convincing and come out on top in a disagreement when you have backup information. For example, if you believe that you are entitled to a benefit under company policy, bring a copy of that policy with you to HR. If you believe that someone's approach may violate a policy, present that policy with your argument. The next time you want to make your case, try preparing some backup information before your meeting. Follow rules one through three, then present your argument with the backup information you prepared. You may be pleasantly surprised at how persuasive you can be.
5. Some battles cannot be fought alone.
There are some disagreements that you alone cannot win. For example, if you feel that your employer is discriminating against you because of your sex, or doing something otherwise illegal, you will probably not change your employer's mind by pointing it out again and again. When you suspect that your boss is doing something illegal to you or otherwise violating the law, it is best to get legal advice or a lawyer to help you win your battle.