There is a way to disagree with colleagues without ruining work relationships. Try these three tips:

Dialogue, not hostility 

Workplace conflicts can have severe negative impacts if not handled correctly. Work conflict has been linked to decreased productivity, project failure, absenteeism and turnover.

If you find you’re trying to defend your point of view, don’t just come in saying “here’s my opinion” make sure you understand what they’re saying before you respond.

Isolation has given us time to sit comfortably with our own opinions. As our social circle narrows to members of our household, immediate team members and those who can be bothered ‘to Zoom’, we have fewer opportunities for those opinions to be challenged. Even as some states slowly come out of lock-down, it’s likely the first people we try to catch up with are like-minded and only solidify our stances on certain issues. This can make it particularly jarring when someone suddenly disagrees with you.

Taking a moment to see the other person’s point of view is going to reduce the risk of irrevocably harming your relationship with that person.

Always start with something that shows you’ve listened. That will immediately open up the conversation.

You don’t need to pretend you agree with them to show you have listened and understood. In fact, if you find their opinion confronting it might be worth telling them and asking for an explanation. Even if it’s something really wild, you can say, ‘tell me how you got to that conclusion’. It just shows the other person you respect your relationship with them even if you disagree.

Pick your battles

Remember, you don’t have to win every debate. Some arguments aren’t worth having at work so knowing when to walk away is important.

If someone says something that you know is fundamentally wrong, you don’t need to say ‘here’s the latest news from whatever source,’ you can pause and just leave that argument for another day. It might take several conversations until you’re both listening to each other but the goal is to get to that place, not necessarily to win the argument. 

When you come at someone like, ‘you’re wrong I’m right and I’m going to show you over the next 10 minutes’ you’re not having a discussion you’re just going to get them riled up. Once you get someone riled up the argument can blow out and you’re not just discussing the original issue, you end up arguing about everything.

Arguing over video calls can be particularly difficult as there is the risk of accidentally cutting people off or speaking over each other and we can’t see their body language to know when it’s an accident.  It can make conversations very unnatural as you’re trying to say your piece quickly and sometimes you might oversimplify things or come across more polarizing so we really need to consider that when arguing. If you are under pressure, it might be worth dropping the argument until you can see them in person or have more time to talk.

Resolve the issue

Although certain arguments are not worth having at work, don’t just drop the issue altogether without some kind of resolution. In some teams when there is one person who disagrees with everyone else the solution is often to just move them to another team. But if you’re talking about big world issues then it doesn’t matter where you move them, someone else may be offended. In such instances you may need to ask this person to keep that particular opinion out of the workplace. 

If the issue is less polarising but has left people upset, you may still need to address the route of the problem. Don’t leave it hanging. Don’t think ‘I’m never going to mention that again’ or ‘we’ll get over it’ because it can just leave a festering wound. If you’re a third party to an argument or participated in an extremely tense meeting it is worth offering to stick around to defuse the situation. 

There are so many people who need a hand at the moment or are in a bad spot and we can’t keep loading our pain on to other people. We need to be conscious that we’re in a very unique environment at the moment where we need to double down on caring and kindness.