3 techniques for handling disagreements with employees
  • leadership
  • Blog post

3 techniques for handling disagreements with employees

Every manager has experienced disagreements with his or her employees. And often, we wonder afterwards whether we handled the difference of opinion as well as we could have.

Conflict resolution guru Daniel Robin points out that when a disagreement arises, we don’t necessarily have to engage in it. We can refuse to participate, thus making the disagreement disappear.

For example, suppose a senior employee who leads one of your project teams rushes into your office at 4:50 p.m. wondering why the heck you countermanded his instructions to the team. You don’t have to go to the mat with him, at least not then and there. You could decide that everybody’s tired this late in the day, and tell him you’ll talk about it tomorrow. Or, if the issue isn’t of great importance, you could even let the employee have his way.

Averting serious conflict
Oftentimes, however, the disagreement will be serious enough that you’ll feel you have to engage. Robin says there are three techniques for doing this, which you can use alone or in combination to best handle the disagreement and avoid its morphing into something more serious.

Here they are:

  • Assertion. Here, the manager states or restates her position, makes clear that her judgment is final, and gives the reason. In the situation above, assertion might sound like this: “I know why you gave the instructions you did, and I know you put a lot of thought into it beforehand. But there’s a problem with your approach, and I needed to change it right away. Here’s why…”
  • Collaboration. Here, depending on the nature of the disagreement, the manager could suggest to the employee that they work together to resolve it. “It’s too bad your approach won’t work. And for now, I want the team to proceed as I instructed them. But why don’t you come up with some alternatives and we can discuss them next week. Maybe we can hash out something that satisfies both of us.”
  • Compromise. This approach resembles collaboration but isn’t identical. Here the manager gives ground on an aspect or aspects of the disagreement, and asks the employee to reciprocate. “Look, I can’t accept your idea about W and X. But we may be able to do something with Y and Z. Will that work for you?”

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It takes two
Of course, smoothing over a disagreement, like dancing the tango, takes two. If the employee with whom the disagreement has arisen digs in his heels, the manager may have to invoke her authority to demand compliance on pain of discipline.

But using the three techniques above can help managers minimize the number of disagreements that escalate to “my way or the highway,” a place you want to go as infrequently as possible.

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