How to handle disagreements at work

Given the choice, we’d all prefer to work in a harmonious workplace with colleagues we got on well with. And when you have limited time and energies to spend on your career, it’s even more important to enjoy good relationships with your managers and team members. So you can get your work done as effectively and easily as possible and enjoy a better work-life balance.

However, much as we want to work with people we always get on well with, from time to time differences of opinion at work are inevitable. Or sometimes we can just have the misfortune to work with someone who seems to seek out disagreements for the sake of it.

In these situations, learning how to handle disagreements and behave in an argument with someone can help you to defuse the situation more quickly, find a solution that works for everyone and enjoy more peaceful, respectful working relationships.

When it’s not a good time to argue

If you need to raise an issue with a colleague that you know may lead strong opinions and possibly disagreement, choose your time wisely. It’s best not to approach someone with a tricky subject if:

  • Either of you are angry or upset – you both need to be calm, rational and in the right frame of mind to listen to each other’s points of view and consider them properly.
  • Either of you are drunk – a company party, awards do or after dinner drinks are not the best place to bring up a touchy subject. Alcohol heightens emotions and reduces our ability to think rationally.
  • You’re in a meeting – if you need to talk about something difficult with a colleague, save it for a time when you are alone. 

If a colleague tries to bring up an issue at one of these times, tell them that you do want to talk to them about it but now isn’t right, and suggest a better time. Be persistent and don’t let them try to talk you round.

How to handle an argument

If a discussion does escalate into an argument, there are ways that you can handle the situation to minimise any damage and help you find a mutually satisfactory resolution:

  • Show your colleague that you’re listening to their point of view.
  • Stick to the issue and don’t bring other complaints into the discussion.
  • Don’t accuse. ‘When you did that…’ can sound quite aggressive. Instead, use expressions like, ‘I felt…’.
  • Try not to generalise with expressions like ‘you always’ or ‘you never’. Instead be specific.
  • Try to keep your body relaxed. Take a moment to take a breath if you feel yourself becoming worked up.
  • Try not to interrupt your colleague. Let them make their point and then respectfully make yours.
  • If the discussion is going nowhere and you’re just rehashing the same complaints without resolving them, suggest you try a different tack, take some time to think or ask another colleague to mediate.
  • Later, when you’ve both calmed down you may find that you can discuss your disagreement more calmly, understand each other’s perspective better and even come to an agreeable solution.