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Why learning to disagree can be a competitive advantage
Your career will thank you
Glancing around me made me realize everyone else at the table was either a senior engineer or a director. I had been invited to this meeting because I implemented the prototype for the project we were going to talk about. I must confess, even being invited felt quite the privilege.
As the meeting went on, it became increasingly apparent to me that the direction the group was heading toward was not going to work. I knew it because I already tried it during my prototype development. Internalizing doubts, I silently reasoned “these people are more senior than me, they probably know something I don’t”, “if I say something, they might get mad at me”, and “I don’t want to seem stupid”. So I said nothing.
As the conversation progressed, knowing I had to say something or else the project would be derailed by at least a few weeks, I felt my heart pounding. And then, in an unanticipated burst, the words escaped my lips: “I don’t think we should do that, and here is why”. Then I proceeded to explain why. To my astonishment, the group's reaction was simply: “Wait, that’s actually a great point!”. I didn’t get into trouble and didn’t look stupid either. On the contrary, people appreciated my input.
This was a pretty important lesson for me earlier in my career because it taught me to speak up, even if I’m seemingly disagreeing with people way more senior than me. Also, regardless of my seniority, my opinions matter and can significantly impact the direction of projects.
Disagreeing in the workplace is a delicate subject. There are work environments where dissent is not embraced, and decisions are driven by politics rather than critical thinking. In some places disagreeing with superiors can even get you in trouble or fired.
Nonetheless, in healthy work environments, divergent perspectives and disagreements are not only tolerated but welcomed. Despite this, we often find ourselves reluctant to express dissent, and as a result, don’t do it nearly enough. The reality is that expressing different opinions is hard, but mastering the art of productive disagreement is indispensable for our personal and professional growth.
This article talks about why disagreements are so important in the workplace and presents 3 reasons why disagreeing can be a competitive advantage in your career.
Getting comfortable with disagreements
Disagreements are an inevitable, normal, and healthy part of relating to other people. We’re all different people and we will have differences.
The majority of us, to varying degrees, worry about what others think about us. We all share a fundamental human need: to belong and be liked. It’s no surprise that conflict can feel deeply uncomfortable and some of us would do anything to avoid it. But having a disagreement doesn’t have to become a conflict. It also doesn’t mean we’re negative or difficult. We’ll talk more in the next article about how to constructively express disagreeing opinions without creating conflict.
To get more comfortable with disagreements, we can start viewing them as “us vs the problem” instead of “me vs you”. We might disagree about how to solve the problem, but we’re in it together to figure it out.
Even though disagreeing can be straight-up terrifying, it might just be what you need to get ahead because it can differentiate you from your peers and provide a competitive edge in your career progression.
Disagreement can boost your career
Disagreeing with a boss? Auch sounds like a bad idea. But it doesn’t have to be, in fact, it can be a fantastic idea. We often tend to believe that our job as employees is to make our managers happy at all costs. I believe we’re not working for our managers (I’d even argue that the opposite is true), we’re working for the company and the mission. We’re hired for our expertise so part of the job is to form and express opinions. If a manager has an issue with someone disagreeing with them, that says more about the manager than the person who disagrees.
Here is how, in the right work environment, disagreeing more often will actually boost your career:
1. Disagreeing earns you respect and builds trust
To disagree means having the courage to advocate for what you believe in. By asserting yourself, you show that you are open to healthy debates.
Even though it might ruffle some feathers (mostly of the people with high egos), having a different opinion will help you stand out from the crowd. And you will be respected for taking a risk, for standing up for what you believe in, and for standing in your integrity.
2. Disagreeing makes your opinions more sought after
In a psychologically safe workplace, leadership will notice and encourage disagreements because they enhance overall organizational performance.
By thinking independently and critically analyzing situations, you are more likely to identify potential flaws, risks, or opportunities that others may overlook, which makes you a valuable asset to your team and organization. Over time, people will start seeking your opinion because they recognize the value you bring in helping them identify blind spots, come up with innovative solutions, and foster better decision-making. By challenging conventional wisdom and presenting well-reasoned arguments, you can become a trusted advisor and influencer in your organization.
3. Disagreeing positions you as a leader
Having disagreeing opinions can position you as a leader who is willing to think outside of the box, take calculated risks, and embrace change. In an era where adaptability and innovation are highly prized, leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo are more likely to drive positive change and push their organizations forward.
Furthermore, your willingness to question established norms and propose alternative strategies can inspire others to think creatively and challenge their own assumptions.
Let’s agree - we need to disagree
Some people disagree for the fun of it (the proud contrarians or devil’s advocates) and some people would rather never have to disagree. We need to find the sweet spot.
Expressing a disagreeing opinion can be done while still being kind and respectful, and without triggering defensiveness in others. Easier said than done, but with enough practice, anybody can do it!
In the next article, we talk about how to package a disagreeing opinion such that it maximizes the chances of being received well, in other words how to disagree without rubbing people off the wrong way.
Have you struggled with disagreements? What are some pieces of advice you have for you to make healthy disagreements easier?
Look forward to hearing from you.
Until next time,
Your Caring Techie
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