Friday, November 26, 2010

To Disagree, First Learn to Agree

When I was growing up, there were two aspects about speaking that I thought were important.  One is that you spoke only when you had something important to contribute.  Secondly, it is impolite to express your disagreement directly.

In the beginning of my USA assignment, I applied this philosophy to my meetings.  The sound levels at these meetings were much higher than those I had experienced.  The conversations flowed from one person to another without much pauses.  At times, a new conversation started before the previous one ended.  My ability to say anything was drastically limited.  I couldn’t find a break point to make a statement.  I comforted myself saying that it was all right. At the end, the problems were getting solved and the actions plans were becoming concrete.  So, although I didn’t say much, I was happy with the outcomes of the meetings and committed to the actions.  Saying anything, I justified, would just lengthen the meeting and added to the decibel.

My manager, after observing me for a few meetings, called me aside and asked me why I was so quiet in those meetings.  I told her that the meetings were going well and I didn’t need to say anything to disrupt the flow.  I agreed with their good suggestions and actions.  She listened and then asked me if I was really happy with the outcome.  I reaffirmed that I was and therefore didn’t need to say anything else at the meetings.

What she said next surprised me.  She asked me why I didn’t say that I agreed with the outcomes and supported the plans.  I argued that I took good notes and even showed her all the actions items for me.  In her collected tone, she said, “You really must say something in a meeting.  The participants need to know that you are there, not only in body but in mind and spirit.  If you agree with the outcome, tell them.  Tell them you will support the actions. I know you are committed to the actions and have always completed them.  But you must TELL them.”

It wasn’t an easy task.  I am not used to making such statements.  The words don’t fall neatly into place.  Taking her advice, I began to practice various phrases to state my agreement and support.  I wanted to ensure that what I say carried the message with SINCERITY.  I leaned to say words like, “That’s a wonderful idea!  I think the team in Asia can support that.”  I practiced many other statements, for variety, so that when the time came for me to use them, I have them handy.

Some may argue that making those statements make one shallow and superficial.  It may not enhance or even maintain the self-esteem of the person making them.  On the contrary!  I felt good making those statements.  More participants came up to me after the meeting thanking me for my ideas, contributions and support.  I felt great!  I meant those statements and my actions showed.  I am now a member of meeting – not only by association but also by contribution.  I am no longer perceived as a bystander.

My philosophy on speaking out has changed.  I am comfortable agreeing.  But, I must still be able to disagree when needed.  Is there a proper way?  Everyone has their own.  For me, I needed one more step – AGREEING AND BUILDING, before disagreeing.  That will be for my next posting.


  1. Dear friends,
    Some of you may be trying to post your comment on this blog and was unable to. I apologize for that. I am switching to a custom domain so that more friends can read and participate in the discussion. I am still learning through this transition. Now that you can comment, I hope to read some of your thoughts. Thank you for your patience.
    Regards, KL Cheah

  2. This is a very honest and authentic account. Liked it immensely. Also proves that simple conversations like the one in this blog can convey the message effectively.

  3. KL,enjoyed this post and learned a lot. I totally AGREE with you on this one.


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