A Guide to Handling Disagreement in Meetings

How Do I Handle Disagreement in Meetings?

Date Posted: 31st August 2021

How Do I Handle Disagreement in Meetings?

How do I handle disagreement in meetings? If there’s one thing that health, safety and environmental professionals have common it’s that we get pushed back in meetings. And I’ve butted heads in more meetings than I can count.

For example, you’ve got some kind of big proposal, you’ve got a new policy, new initiatives, and you’re in a meeting to discuss it, and one of the stakeholders or serious decision makers are resistant to the idea.

This could be something as simple as training. You are trying to get all of the front line management team trained in IOSH Managing Safely. There are 40 people and it’s a 3 day course. It will take approximately 120 days to get through all of that plus lots of serious logistical challenges of delivering training across shifts while still running the place. So you’re in a meeting and the Ops Manager say: “no way can we do that”, or “no way am I prepared to do that”. Now, the first challenge we’ve got here is to ask: “why?”.

We’ve got to get them to say all of the reasons why, not just: “I can’t do it”.

Ask questions like: “why can’t you do it?”, “is there a problem?”. Try and explore this a little bit whilst they’re talking.

The important thing is that you listen. Here is a guide to handling disagreement in meetings:

Step 1

Listen carefully, active listening. Sit there non-judgmentally. Don’t sit there grinning like you think it’s funny. Don’t sit there frowning or scowling as if you disagree. Sit there non-judgementally. Really try to understand their point of view and generally be quite accepting of their point of view.

Step 2

Show them that you’ve listened and resist the urge to argue back. Validate what they say. Repeat back to them in their own words what you have understood.

For example: “so your reason for not wanting to do this is because it takes 120 days out of work. You’re concerned about our ability to run the line whilst they are training. You’re concerned about taking people off of the weekend shifts and night shifts”.

Repeat back all of the things that they said in a non-judgemental way, without arguing. Show that you’ve listened.

Step 3

If you’re in a meeting with several people, there’s a chance that you might have some allies in that meeting. You might have a Quality Manager, a HR Manager, or someone who equally would like to see the front management team trained. If you know who that ally is, ask them. Ask them to get involved, and ask them what they think to the proposal. Hopefully they will argue in your favour.

But, if you don’t have any allies, or you’re not sure if people are supportive or not, just ask a fellow colleague in the meeting, and try and phrase the question in a more positive way. Ask them what benefits they see in the proposal. And hopefully they will take the hint and focus on the benefits rather than the negatives. Now, you could do this with 2 or 3 people.

If there’s half a dozen of you in the meeting, you could ask 3 or 4 people what they think of the proposal, what they think the benefits are, and so on.

Step 4

Go back to the original person, (for instance the Ops Manager), and repeat back to them their objections. You re-validate what they said. Ask them if they are concerned about the proposal. Clarify that they’re not keen because of the time, the 120 days of training, and that they are struggling to see how this is feasible.

Weigh up the objections from the Ops Manager against the benefits from your other colleagues.

Step 5

Ask them a future oriented question. Ask them what the way forward is. Ask them what they propose or what they suggest we do to deliver this training to the team so that we get all of those benefits whilst avoiding all of the problems, or at least most of the problems around time and commitment and so on.

Hopefully they’ll have some kind of solution which they would be happy to look at, and in which case, perfect. You go with that. Now, if they don’t have a solution, if they just sit there and shrug, you could accept the responsibility of solving this.

Ask them that if you can find a way of delivering the training that fits in with their shift patterns and schedule, and that doesn’t take up too much resources at any one time, would they be prepared to go ahead with it?

And hopefully, most of the time, (in my experience), if you listened carefully and repeated back to them all their problems and concerns, they’ll agree.

Now have to find a trainer who can space things out or juggle things around such as shift patterns or find an eLearning approach which is fantastic.

But at least now you’ve got a commitment and a solution going forward rather than the opposite of where they’re resisting your idea. And you’re arguing in favour of the idea, and both of you are just digging your heels in, and that doesn’t get anyone anywhere anyway.


Hopefully this will answer the question: How do I handle disagreement in meetings?

Let me know how it goes. It’s worked well for me in the past.

Catch you later.