Tom Jepson Creative

Don’t be afraid to disagree; it doesn’t make you a jerk.

In my line of work, disagreement is an inevitability. Disagreement over functions and features; over the distillation of user needs and wants; over strategic directions. It’s these disagreements and varieties of stance which help you reduce the risk of bias and give you and your team the best chance of creating a truly valuable solution to the problem you’re looking to solve.

If we were all ‘Yes’ people (Not ‘Yes, and...’ people!) we would end up with odd homogeneities that we’d like to call ‘solutions’ but were, in reality, a mish-mash of ideas which we smashed together because we either avoided disagreements or couldn’t come to a consensus.

That end doesn’t help the people at the heart of a problem or benefit the team going forward.

So how do you disagree well?

Don’t be afraid.

First off, don’t be afraid to say ‘I disagree’. It can feel daunting when you’re ‘in the room’ or stuck in the middle of a team of super-confident people to stand up and say that you’re not onboard with what is being discussed. However, it’s the first step to moving a conversation forward.

You’re not being contrary; you’re saying ‘I hear you, but I’d like to express a different opinion and explore this in another way’.

Carry yourself well.

Once you’ve opened the door, make sure you’re ready to step through.

How you approach a conflicting conversation and how you conduct yourself during it are important. Your tone and your body language speak volumes. Even if you’ve gotten your heckles up and are feeling somewhat heated, find a way to remain present and willing to talk. This isn’t a battle, it’s a conversation!

Qualified reasoning.

Now you’ve gotten everyone talking, be ready to qualify your thinking. You’ve cared enough to voice a contradiction; make sure you’re ready to dig in and explain why you don’t agree and what an alternative approach may be. “Just because.” won’t cut it at this stage.

Speak clearly and articulate your point; it takes practice but you can do it. Don’t use words you don’t need to and don’t ‘try to sound clever’. Be yourself and speak to what you believe.

Make sure you’re relating your reasoning back to known quantities - user research and business goals - as well as leaning into your professional expertise. Sometimes clients and stakeholders will only hear the things relating to the bottom line or a key metric even though what you know of a problem and how to solve it is perfectly valid.

You know, too, that you can always test and iterate. The ‘Lean’ approach for designing solutions requires us to decide quickly, test, and learn. If you can get some real-world insight from a tested idea go for it!

Disagreement is healthy, progressive, and demonstrates real trust between people and teams. Be confident to disagree, be willing to be wrong, and be ready to learn.