In a disagreement with a colleague, particularly if you feel personally attacked, how to be assertive without being perceived as aggressive
Disagreements happen in every job, at every level. When a disagreement elevates to the point where you feel personally attacked, the instinct to punch back hard can kick in, but that isn’t constructive. Instead, you want to maintain your cool and stand your ground while not entering unnecessarily further inflaming the situation. Here are some tips to help you navigate through this minefield:
Keep your emotions in check
This can be the most difficult challenge to overcome. It’s natural to feel annoyed or defensive if your idea is rejected, if your opinion is being ignored, or, more importantly, if you feel targeted by bias. It’s important not to give in to those feelings, because they color your thoughts, and lead down a road to erratic behavior. As much as you can, try to detach yourself from the emotion of the situation, step back, and focus on what you want to achieve.
Start with a simple, objective statement
As even-handedly as you can, state your case as straightforward as possible in a clear, concise manner, so they understand your point, yet minimizes their defensiveness.
Describe the negative effect the behavior has had on you
Explain why the person’s behavior has caused a problem. For example, if you begin with, “When you continually interrupt me during meetings…” it’s helpful to include something like, “I can’t effectively share my opinion or my ideas with the group.” By linking the behavior to your ability to be effective, it won’t feel as much like a direct attack on the other person, but rather you simply asking for a chance to be heard.
Be a good listener
In turn, you want to make sure you are also being a respectful, positive colleague. While others are speaking, you want to act as you’d want others in the room to react to you. Engage with direct eye contact, maintaining an upright or slight forward lean, and keeping a neutral or positive facial expression. In other words, no scowls, no infringing on personal space, and no heavy sighs.
Speak clearly, concisely—and mean what you say
This isn’t the time to say one thing and mean another. It’s also not the best time to use sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, or hostility, even though it’s tempting. Speak what’s in your heart, but rather than bringing up old arguments, focus only on the current situation. And avoid using heavy-handed terms like “always,” “never” or “everyone.” They immediately prompt a defensive reaction.
If you’re feelings are hurt, include that
If the other person has overstepped and you feel personally attacked, feel free to say so. While the other person may feel surprised—and even uncomfortable—it’s hard to refute your feelings.