How to get people to disagree with you


I am annoying. Like many other founders, I have been described as “outspoken”, “combative” and even “overpowering”. It is not something that I am proud of - but it is certainly not wrong. I thrive in adversity. I love shaping my ideas through debates. And I learn the most from people that disagree with me.

But that’s a problem…

Getting disagreement as a founder is hard. And that’s just as true if you are a team leader, manager or some other person that can affect a co-worker’s career prospects.

Employees often learn through the course of their career that agreement and pandering to their manager’s ego is the best path towards individual success - even though the company at large would have benefitted from their contrarian thoughts and inputs.

Too often, companies hire smart people, but then create a culture that rewards echoing the bosses ideas over contributing their own. Even if there is some kind of “debate” it is often just around the edges of the bosses’ framing, rather than around the fundamental idea itself.

a boardroom with employees looking at the boss

And that’s a shame, because it leaves so much of your best people’s input on the table.

To combat this, it is important to create a culture of candor and positive disagreement. That’s not easy, especially if you’re a founder who’s vision provides the foundation for the company. But over the years, I’ve picked up some techniques that I want to share with you:

Solicit Dissent:

Make it safe to disagree:

If conflict arises, manage it constructively and positively

Enshrine it in culture

These steps have helped me in the past - but they are no panacea. If corporate politics and group level allegiances are deeply ingrained in your culture, it will be a long route to a more open environment. But I am convinced that the benefits of being able to tap into the full insight of your staff will make it more than worth it.