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Geoffrey Milton

All About People

Need help to resolve your business, personal or employee conflicts & disputes?

Disagree with a senior colleague? – Here’s how to do it openly and effectively

As our previous blog explained conflict in the workplace can affect both physical and mental health. So, when it comes to sharing differences of opinion, particularly with senior colleagues, this type of conflict situation has to be navigated extremely carefully to ensure an effective outcome and long-term harmony. Having spent the majority of his career in senior HR roles, working with numerous senior professionals in a host of industry sectors, our founder and Director Geoffrey Milton shares his experiences through discussing the best ways to manage conflicting viewpoints with senior colleagues to optimise a productive conversation and succeed in disputes not escalating.

It’s a natural human reaction to shy away from disagreeing with someone we regard as our senior– particularly in the workplace. It’s to be expected, indeed in many ways inevitable, that every working professional will at some point disagree with a decision made by a senior executive in their organisation, and that every situation will be different. But as we’ve said before, conflict and disagreements don’t always have to be negative.

Take a moment to reflect on the disagreement, conflict and situation, before beginning to raise and discuss it, and then follow these six steps.

Six steps when raising a disagreement

1. Timing is everything 

Evaluate if it’s a good idea to delay the conversation, for instance if you disagree with a comment made during a meeting with colleagues (or clients/customers), in the workplace or other public space, then it’s probably waiting will maximise a positive outcome; these environments are simply not a good forum for the type of inevitable discussion that follows a challenge of a senior individuals’ opinions or words. Discussing the issue in private will make the senior person feel less threatened, exposed, or even undermined at the challenge, so that a calmer, more reasonable and pragmatic discussion can take place.

2. Weigh up the risk 

It’s human nature to overthink and overplay the risks involved in speaking up, and thinking only of all the things that could go wrong during and as a consequence of us airing our opinion. It is good practice to fully consider the risks, but equally the risks of NOT speaking up. So take a balanced approach, weigh-up the pros and cons, the good and not so good, of the potential outcomes from you taking action. This should include assessing the quality of your professional relationship with the other person, along with the wider team/s, but also the greater trust and respect from speaking out, not least as I could well spotlight that you are willing and able to start and engage in a frank conversation for the greater good of the business, the team, a client, etc.

3. Seek permission to disagree

Rather than simply ‘launching’ into verbalising your disagreement, it’s beneficial to give the other party a choice. Explain that you would like to discuss a point they have made, and ask if they are open to hearing another opinion on the matter. Not only does this open the conversation by seemingly asking permission, but it will also give you confidence to proceed with the conversation and to explain your own opinion and thoughts on in the issue in hand.

4. Start with highlighting a shared goal or value

This approach will set the tone for the conversation. By identifying a shared goal, or something that you both care about, whether this be as straightforward as the success of the business, achieving objectives or targets, or keeping a client onboard and happy. In this way, you connect the disagreement to a ‘higher purpose’, which serves to open up the discussion to a compromise as opposed to a fight, stand-off or full-blown argument, and ultimately reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion. 

5. Validate their opinion

Validating the other person’s opinion and views previously raised, is a strong foundation for the discussion. It shows understanding and is respectful and keeps the disagreement as a non-personal issue.

6. Seek their perspective on your ideas 

Strive for clarity for your argument throughout the discussion, but equally beneficial is to leave room for, and invite, their additional perspectives. This will mean your thinking is stretched, and show you are keeping an open mind. Do so by being curious - ask questions and invite their expertise and insights on your interpretation of their original comments/views, and your opinion of these. 

Always remember: Do’s and Don’ts


Ask if you can reiterate their point of view or decision to ensure you understand it.

Let them know that you have a different opinion and ask if you can explain your views.

Keep calm - talking in an even tone calms down both parties and keeps the conversation constructive.


Diminish someone else’s view point, using words such as ‘wrong’ or ‘unrealistic’.

Automatically assume that disagreeing is going to damage your relationship or career - the consequences are often much less than we think.

State your opinions as facts – you need to be open to a discussion and compromises.

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