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Are you too agreeable? 7 Strategies to push back without being pushy

by Margie Warrell on December 16, 2013
Career

We’ve all heard it said: When a man pushes back on an argument he’s called assertive. When a woman does it, she’s called bossy. However, if you’re fear of being called bossy drives you to keep your mouth closed when you disagree with the status quo, then you will never grow the influence nor command the respect you want.

Of course, no-one likes a pushy person. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push back from time to time. In fact, if you don’t, your career will pay the price.

Speaking up to express an opinion that may go against the grain of consensus takes courage. You have to step out from the safety of your conversational “comfort zone” and make yourself vulnerable to criticism… if not worse. It explains why women, who are so finely tuned to other people’s emotions and good at building relationships, are so loathe to do anything that might disrupt them. It also explains why, too often, we opt for the path of least resistance – tip toeing gently around sensitive issues so as to avoid ruffling feather or cause upsets.

Being someone others can rely on for a candid, even if not politically correct, opinion can open doors to opportunities that will never go to those without an original thought who choose the safe path for fear of ruffling feathers or rocking the boat

But here’s the deal – in today’s workplace where ‘Yes-men’ (and women) are all too plentiful, those who are willing to stick their neck out and question the status quo thinking not only add more value, but become more valuable to others. Sure, your boss or a colleague may not always agree with you. Some might think you’re being difficult. However, as I wrote in my latest book Stop Playing Safe “Being someone others can rely on for a candid, even if not politically correct, opinion can open doors to opportunities that will never go to those without an original thought who choose the safe path for fear of ruffling feathers or rocking the boat.”

When all you do is ‘go along to get along,’ you deprive others of the value your perspective holds. Everyone is worse off. So, while no-one likes someone who’s pushing their opinion down other’s throats, sometimes it’s important to speak up, and share what’s on your mind, lest groupthink prevail.

Try these 7 strategies to disagree without being disagreeable.

1. Distinguish position from person
Disagreeing can activate people’s defenses as you challenge their view of reality. It’s therefore important to distinguish the opinion that you are pushing back against from the person who holds it. Doing so will enable you to disagree in a way that others don’t feel is arrogant or righteous, but instead respects how they came to see things as they do, while offering an alternative perspective. What’s important is that people understand that you’re not pushing them back, but rather their position.

2. Offer a solution
Come armed with a recommended alternative solution. It’s easy to say, ‘I disagree,’ but it’s too so easy to develop, present and sell a different solution. If appropriate, consider enlisting a ‘co-conspirator’ who is trusted by the person you’re pushing back.

3. Back up your position
Prepare ahead with good examples that support your case. Since most people tend towards risk-averseness, demonstrating what others have done in similar situations may lessen others misgivings and alleviate their fears.

4. State the business case
Ground push back or disagreement in a business-related reason (a mutual concern). Opinion is important, but if people see that it’s a legitimate business concern that’s driving a concern or disagreement, then it takes personal judgment and personality out of the equation and keeps the conversation focused on the content.

5. Inquire before advocating
If there’s something you disagree with say, ‘I think I understand what you’re trying to say but help me with this aspect: I’m having trouble seeing how to get from here to there’. This moves you from advocating for your opinion to inquiring. By inquiring you’re better placed to turn the conversation back to your winning points.

6. Yes and…
Instead of saying ‘yes, but’ say ‘yes, and’. The former negates anything that came before it and seems combative. The latter creates an extended conversation that builds on ideas already expressed and invites further conversation to expand perspectives. For instance, “I hear what you’re saying and would like to ask if you have considered this…”

7. Concede defeat graciously
If you’re not going to win, be sensitive to when it’s time to give up the fight and accept defeat graciously without alienating yourself or damaging trust in your relationships. You’re then more likely to earn respect as someone with the courage to speak candidly yet respectfully.

Margie Warrell
A Forbes columnist, leadership coach, and bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage, Margie Warrell is passionate about supporting women to become stronger leaders and more powerful catalysts for change. An adventure traveller and the mother of four noisy children, her expertise has been sought by leading media internationally from the Wall Street Journal to Fox News. Margie is also a regular expert contributor on Sunrise. More information at margiewarrell.com

Margie Warrell
Margie Warrell is a columnist for Forbes magazine, bestselling author, regular media commentator, leadership coach, and international keynote speaker. Founder and CEO of Global Courage, a women’s leadership organization, Margie is passionate about helping other women engage in bigger conversations, and grow their leadership ability to become powerful catalysts for change in their community, organisation and the world. She draws on her background in business and psychology to run women’s leadership programs with leading organisations around the globe including the UN Foundation, NASA, Accenture, Oracle, ExxonMobil, Bechtel and Hitachi.
 
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