Someone tells you you’re wrong.
How do you feel?
You might feel embarrassed, defensive, or even irritated.
It’s likely that your default reaction–at least in your head–would be to start coming up with arguments to back up what you said.
This situation happens all the time. When you disagree with someone, people can take it the wrong way. It’s precisely why being able to disagree tactfully is invaluable–pull this off, and the other person will be much more accepting of your idea. Instead of triggering conflict or hurt feelings, you can disagree in a way that moves the discussion forward.
Whether you’re brainstorming ideas with your team or stating your opinion at a meeting, disagreeing is unavoidable in work environments and even in personal relationships. Disagreeing simply means that your opinion or perspective differs from that of the other person.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how to disagree in English. Specifically, we’ll look into which phrases to use when you disagree along with how you can appear more approachable.
What if you also master the intonation, body language, and gestures to go with that? Then you’ll be really persuasive, even in tricky situations when the other person doesn’t agree with you at first. You can minimize the risk of misunderstandings, whether you’re talking to a client, colleagues, or your boss.
Now’s your chance to achieve that. We’ve launched the Creativa business meeting mastery course, which features an entire video section dedicated to disagreeing effectively. You’ll learn how to assert your point while making the other side feel heard–complete with realistic reenactments and a deep dive into body language and intonation.
The course also includes other engaging, high-quality videos that help you present your best self in English. You’ll become amazing at managing meetings, from sounding confident to making your message clear. Curious about it? You can check it out with a free video here.
A Technique for Disagreeing Diplomatically in English
The words that you use when disagreeing are important. While there are several phrases and statements that you can say in English to express disagreement, not all of them might be appropriate for the situation. In fact, some might come on as a bit too strong or abrupt instead of polite.
Communication is more vital than ever at work, and your choice of words will affect how the other person reacts. On top of this, your body language and tone also matter, especially during video calls where there are fewer social cues to focus on.
Combining all of this in real-time can be overwhelming. Instead of being unprepared, you can actually practice beforehand–and become more skilled at disagreeing effectively. Scroll down for a free worksheet that will drill you on the exact phrases and vocabulary so that when you’re in an actual business English meeting, you can include them naturally in your conversations.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to communicate your opinions directly, deal with multiple points of view, and foster teamwork.
On top of this, here’s a technique that you can follow when you’re disagreeing with someone:
1. Acknowledge the other person.
Regardless of the language that you’re speaking, it’s always more diplomatic to acknowledge the other person’s point first instead of disagreeing right away. People will be more open to hearing your opinion if they feel that you recognize the merits behind what they’re saying. This follows a psychological technique called reflective listening, where you summarize the other person’s statement and make them feel understood.
Most of the time, disagreement isn’t total. You might disagree with some of the other person’s points, but you can also see how they reached that line of thinking.
For the first sentence or two that you say, focus on acknowledging the other person or mentioning your common ground. This conveys that your intent is collaboration.
- I hear what you are saying, and it makes a lot of sense.
- I understand your concerns here.
- I would agree with you on this point.
- I can see what you mean.
2. Explain the logic behind why you disagree.
The main risk of disagreeing is that the other person might take it personally. You can transition from validating the other person to expressing your opinion by going into your logical reasons for disagreeing.
The more specific details that you can give, the less subjective the discussion will be. Ideally, the other person would feel that you’re disagreeing with their idea in a detached way rather than hinting that they’re wrong.
It also helps to soften your stance by using words such as “I think,” “it might be,” “I’m not sure,” and “possibly.” This makes it clear that you’re open to an alternative point of view instead of assuming that you’re right by default.
- I’m not sure it can be done right now because…
- I think this seems risky because…
- I might be completely wrong here but it seems like…
- Is it also possible that…
3. Offer an alternative course of action.
When you disagree with another person, you almost always have an alternative idea or course of action in mind. Stating this out loud can be more constructive than only explaining why the other person’s idea doesn’t work for you. Towards the end, you can signify your willingness to hear their feedback by saying phrases such as “What do you think?” or “Could this work?”
This makes the tone of the discussion solution-oriented. The other person’s free to respond to your idea by building on it, asking questions, or even stating why they themselves disagree with it. Either way, there’s a new point to discuss. A collaborative back-and-forth like this can eventually lead both of you to a solution that works for everyone.
- Does that sound reasonable?
- What if we do the following instead?
- Could it be a potentially better course of action to…
- What are your thoughts on this?
Putting It All Together
Here’s how this could play out in actual work situations:
Situation: Your coworker wants to have more frequent meetings about a project, but you’d prefer to make written updates instead.
What you can say: “I agree that we need to have frequent updates about this project [Step 1]. Since meetings can be time-consuming [Step 2], maybe we can try sending out written updates every day and meeting up once a week first. What do you think? [Step 3]”
Situation: During brainstorming, a team member proposes a campaign that you think would be too expensive given your company’s current stage.
What you can say: “I like how creative that is–it’ll definitely catch a lot of attention [Step 1]. I’m wondering if we can execute it once we’ve gained more traction. The cost can be very high, and it might overwhelm our budget [Step 2]. What if we start with smaller social media ads first, then move on to that eventually? [Step 3]”
Pair this structure with the right English phrases, and you can make your work relationships so much more productive. You’ll find additional tips and exercises for mastering this structure in our free PDF worksheet on disagreeing effectively. Scroll down to download it!
You know you’re on the right track when you’re seen as providing thoughtful and considerate input, even when you disagree.
Additional Tips on How to Disagree in English
Aside from the structure described above, you’ll also want to consider the following:
Avoiding “you” statements
Statements that start with “you” might seem like second nature if you’re in a discussion. Since you’re referring to the other person’s points, it seems factually accurate to start off with “You said that…” or “You explained that…” However, in English, statements like this can sound harsh, especially when you follow it with why you disagree.
So-called “you” statements can sound more negative and judgmental, so be mindful about using them. You can start your statements with “I” instead, as shown in the previous example phrases.
Maintaining an approachable body language
It’s said that most communication is non-verbal. Body language is a huge component of this. Even when you’re doing video calls, people will still be looking closely at your facial expressions and even your hand movements and posture.
To disagree tactfully, you need to back up your choice of words with the appropriate body language. This may include having wide open hands, nodding your head when the other person speaks, and having good posture.
All in all, learning to disagree well is an art.
Aside from listening to the other person, you must choose the right English words and expressions to get your point across while remaining polite and friendly. At the same time, non-verbal cues such as your body language also matter.
Our in-depth course on Mastering Communications for Business Video Call Meetings in English shows how all of these come together in an actual work setting. Because it features detailed videos, you’ll be able to see firsthand how to react in different situations, from frequently used phrases to body language adjustments.
Learning from example can also give you an intuitive understanding so that you can think fast on your feet. No matter what industry you’re in, communication is a core skill. Knowing how to disagree diplomatically will prevent misunderstandings and help you get your ideas across better.