On Disagreement


Earlier this month, author Mark Sanborn wrote about the importance of reading dissenting opinions. He reminds us that we can often learn from those that view the world differently than we do. They may also learn from us. Other times, we may simply agree to disagree. However, as Sanborn wrote,

“There are few things more fatal to success than rigidity of thinking.”

For leaders, the pursuit of the dissenting opinion can be critical to sound decision-making. Surrounding ourselves only with people who agree with us means that our decisions may not be properly analyzed. The person who suggests an alternate way of looking at a problem may be the very person who leads us to the most successful outcome.


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We do not want to surround ourselves with “Yes men.” Looking at that person who has the dissenting opinion for a new solution is easier if you view their opinion as a potential asset. This takes insight, courage, and a strong sense of self.

On the other hand, what if I am the person who disagrees? What if I have the dissenting opinion?

As leaders, we set the example for others on how to disagree. Judith E. Glaser provided tips on how to respectfully disagree, without sending the message, “I am right and you are wrong.” Key points in her comments were:

Don’t say “Yes, but…” The word “but” sends the message that whatever came before is wrong. Instead, say “Yes, and…” The word “and” acts as an extender of conversation, inviting dialogue. It acknowledges the opinion of the other person before providing another view.

Don’t say, “respectfully speaking.” That may send the message, “I should respect your position but I don’t, so here’s what I think.” Instead, say, “I understand what you are trying to say…help me with this aspect.”

Glaser encourages us to enter into conversations, even disagreeing dialogue, as partners. Looking at the exchange in that way allows us to give and take with respect, learning from each other.

Sanborn and Glaser both offer us good reminders on the importance of dissent. What has your experience been?

What lesson have you learned from disagreement?

L2L Contributing Author


  1. kroyse on April 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    One of my favorite quotes; When colleagues argue, truth happens.

  2. Dan DeLapp on April 10, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Hi Eleanor,

    I agree with you 100%. In 30 years of helping leaders to grow, I’ve seen the practical results of what you are talking about – on both sides of the ledger. Those leaders who showed flexibility in their thinking and invited all points of view garnered more respect and engendered more trust than if they had done nothing. The leaders who engaged in rigid, inflexible behavior lead organizations sadly lacking in commitment and with poor execution.

    The research findings from the work of the Center for Creative Leadership are consistent with what you and Mark are saying about flexibility and derailment. A negotiation model I use also speaks to the wisdom of putting forth alternative ideas to create successful outcomes. And lastly, those interpersonal suggestions by Judith Glaser on how to approach disagreement are spot on.

    Well done on bringing this to light.

    Dan DeLapp
    The AEGIS Consulting Group
    “Enabling Leaders to Develop and Grow”

  3. Eleanor Biddulph on April 11, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Dan – thank you for visiting L2L, reading and commenting on my post. I certainly appreciate your feedback. Glaser serves as a good reminder to me that “and” continues the dialogue while “but” can put an end to it. Such a small word can make such a big difference!! Please come back often. El

  4. Chuck on February 26, 2012 at 4:38 am

    This is so niave and shallow it does not provide any benefit. You should call this segment “My considered shallow political construct for how to get away with being a disruptive force in my workplace”

    • Eleanor Biddulph on February 26, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Chuck, thank you for expressing a dissenting opinion. What is your experience? How do you express and/or receive disagreement in the workplace?