When people who think differently work together, we end up with better solutions – but this means you will eventually find yourself disagreeing with someone in the workplace.
It might also mean you need to tell a coworker they forgot to do a task or need to try a different idea.
Before you freak out, this post lists a few great phrases you can use to prevent (most) hurt feelings.
But when do you need to use these?
The Difference Between Assertive and Rude
When people are assertive, they’re confident and able to stand up for themselves.
When people are rude, they’re impolite and (sometimes) too harsh with others.
Softening your language doesn’t have to mean you’re no longer assertive. In fact, being diplomatic (or dealing with others in an effective way, without offending them), is a highly useful skill to have.
The challenge is, then, to be both confident and sensitive to the feelings of others around you in a way that makes your conversations effective.
I also want to mention that the business world has finally been acknowledging (in the past 5 years or so) the habit of many women who unnecessarily apologize too much at work.
- Article: It’s Time for Women to Stop Apologizing So Much
- Article: Why You Should Not Apologize Too Much at Work
- Article: 25 Things Women Should Stop Apologizing for at Work
So, I’m not encouraging you to apologize more. This is not about making yourself smaller or treating your friends, bosses, and colleagues as fragile.
This is about creating good working relationships with the people around you, so you can be effective while standing up for yourself and your opinions.
Note: Keep in mind that over-explaining a situation (for instance, over-explaining the reasons why you’re questioning a coworker’s request) can also appear rude. Keep things simple!
Phrases You Can Use
How to Say “No” to a Suggestion or Idea
Americans are usually nice about rejecting a coworker’s idea. If you only say, “That won’t work,” it will most likely be too harsh or direct – especially if you’re talking to a manager or boss.
Diplomatic language, even if you’re positive that you’re correct, is usually best.
I’m not sure that would work, because…
I don’t think that would work, because…
Well, we tried that last time and it didn’t work as well as we’d hoped.
Unfortunately, we’ve already tried that.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources for that.
For example, if someone suggests that your 2-person sales team call 10,000 people, you could say, “I’m not sure that would work, because the team isn’t big enough to call everyone while keeping up our regular duties.”
Another way to say it would be, “Unfortunately, the team isn’t big enough to call everyone in that timeframe.”
Sometimes, the easiest way to say “no” is to suggest another course of action.
You may/might want to consider… [an idea].
It might be a good idea to… [do a thing] instead.
Have you thought about… [your idea]?
How to Point out a Mistake with Unsolicited (unasked for) Comments
If you notice a mistake and need to start the conversation yourself, there are a few phrases you can use to soften up your language.
For instance, you might have agreed to do a specific part of a project, or meet at a certain time. If others aren’t following the plan, you can get their attention and then start with these:
It looks like… [this thing happened]. Was that supposed to happen?
It seems… [another thing happened]. Is that correct?
Did we agree on…[this thing]? / Did we decide… [to do that thing]?
I thought I was supposed to… [do a thing].
The boss asked me to do [this thing], but it looks like you’re working on it. Has the plan changed?
You can follow up the last two phrases with more questions: Should I [do another thing]? Am I looking at the wrong file or assignment? Did the boss’s priorities change?
By asking questions, we can soften our message. This also keeps us from sounding like we’re blaming our coworkers for things going wrong.
Of course, these phrases are for situations that are not safety-related!
How to Make Suggestions (suggest a different course of action)
Imagine you’re working on a project with someone and you’re both getting frustrated. Maybe the directions were unclear or nobody really followed them in the first place.
Or, maybe you know how to fix a friend’s problem.
Start with one of these:
Have you tried [suggestion]…
Maybe we could…
I think it could be a good idea to…
It seems to me that… [an action] might[or could] work…
One thing we could [or should/might] consider is…
Simply saying “You should,” is often too direct. We can soften the message by using indirect language.
How to Disagree with Someone’s Opinion
Opinions are personal views, beliefs, or judgments that everyone has about the world around them. They aren’t always fact-based, but most people have very strong feelings attached to them.
If your own opinion is different, that’s fine.
Make sure to explain your own point of view without placing a value judgment (good/bad) on their opinion.
(Unless their opinion is that everyone should kick puppies or yell at grandmothers. Those things are bad.)
I’m not sure I agree, because…
I don’t think that’s always true.
I see it differently.
Sometimes, all you need to do is validate the other person’s thought process or feelings before asserting your own opinion.
I see your point, however I…
I understand where you’re coming from, but I…
From there, you can state how you came to your own opinion, or what your own feelings are.
Other times, however, the easiest thing to say is that you’ll need to, “Agree to disagree.“
Hopefully, now you have a good idea of the phrases you can mix-and-match to diplomatically argue your point of view or remind a coworker about their part of a project.