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leadership lab

Management consultant and author of Maverick Leadership

Disagreements and confrontations are subjects seldom covered in management courses and training. But they can occur when you run a business, and good managers need to be comfortable dealing with them.

Over my career, I have seen immense damage caused by mismanaging these two areas. For starters, let’s look at disagreements.

The first thing is to differentiate between fundamental and secondary disagreements. Fundamental disagreements include strategic matters, direction of the business, core values and ethical principles, while secondary disagreements are less important matters.

To illustrate the difference, fundamental disagreements usually deal with the “what,” while secondary tend to deal more with “how to.” For example, two people agree to go to Montreal for a business trip, but not on how to get there. One wants to drive while the other opts for the train. That is a secondary disagreement. In another case, two may agree about hiring a new manager, but not on the timing. Again, the disagreement here is secondary.

Learning to differentiate between the strategic “what” and tactical “how to” is an excellent first step to handling such disagreements.

A second thing to watch for concerns whom the disagreement is with. A disagreement can be with the boss, a colleague or a subordinate.

A fundamental disagreement with the boss or a subordinate is difficult to accept. Indeed, being unable to agree on a fundamental and strategic issue with your boss will pose a serious challenge and is sure to affect performance and business results. However, a disagreement with a colleague may not be so bad. It happens all the time and, if it involves a secondary issue, all the parties will likely survive intact.

We have all heard it is better to “choose your battles.” While this may be true, it is hard to do when it concerns a strategy you don’t support. It is equally difficult to accept decisions that contradict your values or core principles.

Any manager in charge of a team should welcome input from team members and be thankful for suggestions, recommendations, and feedback. But business is not a democracy and the manager can override their suggestions. The manager is the boss and is accountable for the outcome.

On the other hand, a subordinate may offer input showing a better course of action. In such a situation, a good manager accepts the recommendation and expresses appreciation.

Managing confrontations is more difficult and I have seldom met people who enjoy engaging in them. But managers must understand that certain matters need to be dealt with. Problems seldom resolve themselves, and delaying tends to make them grow bigger. A top complaint from employees about managers is procrastination and not resolving problems or fixing issues that linger. A manager who avoids handling confrontations reduces the trust the team has for their leader.

Here are three key points to remember:

  • Balance: The key to engaging in confrontations is to take a balanced approach, respect the individuals involved and show the need to resolve things. Disagreements and conflicts sabotage good performance, build organizational silos and hinder growth and success.
  • Separation: Make sure to separate the opinions from the people, and the subject matter from the individual. You do not disagree with the person, but with the outcome or the subject matter. You are not saying Mary is better than John, only that Mary’s solution is better or faster or more economical. It is the action being discussed, not the person.
  • Take the high road: Always be professional, respectful, polite and considerate. Even when emotions run high, they are welcome since emotions show energy and engagement. No manager wants to suppress emotion, but should be able to control emotion.

Handling disagreements and engaging in confrontations require patience, experience and wisdom. Make no mistake, it is difficult to master. Don’t be discouraged by not getting it right the first time. Instead, persevere and chalk it up to experience.

Any manager will encounter disagreements and confrontations when running a business, and it might be with the board, the senior management team, clients or suppliers.

That’s because you are dealing with people.

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