Interpersonal Skills Example: How to Disagree with “The Boss”

My cousin in China has beeninterpersonal skills example running a travel agency for 20 years. She’s one of those people who knows exactly how to maintain good relationships.  During my trip to China, I learned one interpersonal skills example after another from her.

First, some background: my oldest daughter and I visited our extended family in China together for the first time two months ago.  My parents decided to come, too, since grandpa turns 90 this year.  It was a four-generation family reunion!  While the following examples are all related to my family trip, they also apply to the work place.

Here is the first interpersonal skills example from my trip, my lessons learned, and how they apply at work.

Interpersonal Skills Example #1: Disagreeing with “The Boss”

I’m a lazy traveler who doesn’t like following a strict schedule. My dad, on the other hand, loves planning a full schedule.  This trip was no exception.  On day 1, we were already arguing about a side trip he wanted to plan.  He wanted to visit the country side area where I grew up as a child.  The idea, while nostalgic, had horrendous logistics. I immediately said no to his idea and explained why.

  • The drive would take 4-5 hours each way.
  • The drive to the countryside is not exactly luxurious; it’s not easy to find bathrooms along the way.
  • The trip would have been taxing on Isabel, my mom, and myself.

Even though my reasons were perfectly logical, he wasn’t happy with me.  He brought up the idea to my cousin as soon as he saw her.  I thought she would shut him down or advise against it.  She didn’t.  Instead, she smiled and said, “it’s an interesting idea, but you must be tired from your trip.  Let’s talk about it another time and see if it can work out.”

When we were alone, I asked her if she really thought it was a good idea.  She said no, but then she shared her first secret to building interpersonal relationships: when someone is gong ho for an idea, they just want to be heard first.  Saying no right away just hurts their feelings.  Instead, play along and wear them down with the details later. In other words…

Don’t say “no” to bad ideas. Let them die from “natural causes”.

My cousin said my dad would eventually come to realize the idea wasn’t feasible and give it up.  That’s exactly what happened.

Applying the Lesson to Work Relationships

Disagreeing with seniors at work is tricky, so be smart about it. Use these 4 tips whenever you disagree with an idea you heard at the office.

Tip#1: Listen. Actively consider why they think it’s a good idea instead of just waiting until they’re done.  Show that you understand where they’re coming from.

Tip#2: Redirect and Delay.  No one likes being wrong, so flat out disagreeing just hurts the relationship.  Instead, absorb the idea and give them time to cool down.  When someone feels heated about their position, just discuss it later.  You can also ask clarifying questions to understand their idea and highlight unconsidered issues.

Tip#3: Don’t Follow Up Too Quickly.  Until they bring up the idea again, just drop it — even if you disagree.  Over time, they might soften or give up the idea altogether.

Tip #4: Let The Idea Die From Natural Causes.  My cousin insisted she couldn’t find a car on such short notice.  It was a good, impersonal reason to not go.  At work, you can choose not to pursue an idea by citing constraints like “lack of resources” or “too late to include in this release”. Those are perfectly legitimate reasons.

Tips #1 and #2 share a common foundation: respect the person you disagree with.  This is fundamental to any interpersonal relationship.  If you’re dealing with a manager or an important business partner, it’s especially crucial.  You’ll gain their respect by considering their side first.

Tips #3 and #4 are also related.  Sometimes people later realize that taking a strong stand was a mistake.  By not following up or arguing right away, they’ll come to their senses, save face, and you’ll maintain a good relationship.

No wonder my cousin’s colleagues, clients, and family all love her! Even when she disagrees with someone, she  maintains a great relationship them.  We all need that powerful skill.  Stay tuned next week for the second interpersonal skills example – Maybe It’s a Misunderstanding.  🙂

Your comments: Are these tips challenging for you?  How do you handle these situations?  I look forward to your comments.

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Best wishes to your success. Work smart and live more!


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