The Secrets To Effectively and Politely Opposing Others

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“Great idea!” “Right on!” Don’t you love hearing that you’re correct? It’s a good feeling when others back you up, share your vision, or can’t wait to implement your suggestions. We’ve all been there!

The opposite, however, doesn’t feel as great. Many of us get uncomfortable even thinking about turning down someone else’s idea or rejecting their proposal. We have a hard time setting boundaries, which often stops us from doing so. Whether we’re worried about hurting their feelings or damaging their ego, it’s a very common phenomenon.

The wonderful buzz of mutual agreement and the trickiness of speaking up work together often work against us. While there’s frequently a push for consensus and harmony in organizations, there are also times when it’s critical to voice an alternative perspective.

Sometimes, it’s essential to second guess, play devil’s advocate, or “put the brakes on” if we want to make strong decisions and address important challenges with all of the facts on the table.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the Oppose influencing style and how you can use it in practice. Sure, it’s not the most popular of the 12 Sphere of Influence styles, but with the right tips and techniques, it’s a powerful, even diplomatic way for your team to collaborate even more effectively together.

Why Oppose?

If you struggle to draw boundaries or stand your ground in social situations, it helps to remind yourself why this style is in your arsenal in the first place.

Using your whole communication skill set is about adapting between different approaches, and there are times when it’s just the card to play.

The following is a good summary of example scenarios:

  • When you want to explore all the possible solutions to a challenge. Sometimes, the first option suggested isn’t necessarily the best, and opposing helps you highlight alternative ideas and perspectives. This way, everybody can see the big picture.
  • When you want to understand an issue better. When others oppose us, we get insight into their perspectives. This can be a great learning opportunity, enriching our understanding of issues that are important to us.
  • When we want to avoid rash or hasty decisions. Humans are inclined to all kinds of cognitive biases, such as loss aversion, and opposing can help us slow down and think more logically.
  • When we want to give everyone a chance to contribute. Some of us are naturally more “active” communicators than others, and it’s not hard for them to dominate the conversation. Applying your opposing skills in these contexts can give “the quiet ones” a chance to contribute.

Now that we’ve unpacked the “why” of opposing others, let’s take a look at the “how.” Here, I’ve picked five SOI coaching tips to help you get comfortable with a style that may make you uncomfortable!

5 Tips Increase Your Opposing Skills

The first tip I’m sharing can be valuable if you’re naturally hesitant to speak up. This can be especially hard in group situations where consensus is the norm, so I’ve also included four more tips to help you break that chain.

1. Set Boundaries

Successfully opposing others is about setting clear boundaries and standing up for them. While it might seem straightforward, the hardest part isn’t the boundaries themselves (or what you want to say) but rather your mindset as you approach the situation.

We set boundaries most effectively when we feel calm, confident, and prepared, which is particularly tricky in most situations where lines need to be drawn in the sand. A few examples might include:

  • When you feel emotional because you have strong objections to an idea/proposal/opinion
  • When you feel insecure about telling someone they have crossed your boundaries.

In situations like these, the first thing to do is check your calmness levels before you proceed to lay down the law.

If you’re confident that you’re composed and ready to move forward, you can start to think about and prepare for your conversation partner’s potential responses. Here are three of the most common reactions people have to being opposed and how you might handle them:

  1. Acceptance: Your conversation partner might be receptive to what you have to say. This is (clearly) a win, so make sure you celebrate it!
  2. Rejection: Many people are hesitant to oppose others because they worry that their idea will be resisted–if this happens, consider whether it’s worth standing your ground. If not, save your energy and think about raising your suggestion another time. If it’s worth the fight, demonstrate that you’ve heard the other person’s suggestion before calmly reiterating your answer.
  3. They ask for more information: It’s possible that your partner simply hasn’t understood your input. Having your arguments or rationale ready ahead of time will help you craft a stronger case.

2. Refute

Refuting is a skill that involves highlighting why someone else’s idea or statement is incorrect, with an evidence-based explanation to back up your claim.

You can strengthen this skill through practice; use the following three steps:

  1. Repeat the specific argument that you plan to refute, for example: “You claim we can’t afford to ABC,” or “You argue that we will never XYZ…”
  2. Refute: Make it clear that you believe they are incorrect. The following phrases can be helpful:
    1. But I disagree…          
    1. However…
    1. Nevertheless…           
    1. On the contrary…
  3. Back up your reasoning with evidence to give it strength and credibility. Here, again, you might want to have these ready!

3.  Challenge

Sometimes, simply letting others unpack their own arguments is enough to change their minds. It’s polite and particularly effective when refuting them might not be wise, for instance, when your conversation partner is not known for their ability to handle feedback!

When you want to challenge others, you can invite them to expand on their proposals or arguments to “stress test” them. Together, your goal is to explore how the idea, suggestion, or plan holds up in different situations:

  • Do we have the resources?
  • Does everyone agree with this suggestion?
  • Is this the fastest/most effective/most efficient solution?
  • Will we be able to overcome the potential obstacles this plan presents?
  • Is now the right time? Do we have enough time?
  • What would [person] feel about it? How would they respond?

4. Weakening Arguments

Another skill in the Oppose category is to spot minor inaccuracies in your conversation partner’s statements. This works well in scenarios where the person you’re up against is especially convinced of their position or has strong arguments.

This technique centers around the fact that the more someone elaborates, the higher the chances that they will expose holes in their rationale or logic.

Pay close attention to what they’re saying as they expand, and be especially alert when they use ‘overgeneralizing’ phrases such as: “We always….” or “We never….”

When you notice an inaccuracy in their argument, say something:

  1. Point out that they are incorrect
  2. Repeat the specific inaccuracy, then
  3. Give them a chance to defend themselves.

5. Offer Alternatives

Sometimes, opposing others is not about getting your way but an important approach to avoid unwanted outcomes. At times like these, a useful technique is to offer alternatives.

Doing this successfully is all about timing and dosage, so you can assess the situation beforehand to gauge whether they will be receptive. Use these steps to guide you:

  1. Assess the situation: Take a moment to check the following:
    • Is now the right time to bring up alternatives?       
    • Does the other person seem like they’ll be open to your suggestions?
    • Have I got my timing right? Are there any deadlines or urgent issues to deal with first?
    • Is the topic we’re discussing still relevant?
    • Do we have sufficient time to unpack and explore the various alternatives?
  2. Check with the other person: Ask the person you’re speaking with whether you can bring up your ideas: “Can I suggest some alternatives?” If they say no, leave it (at least for now), and if they say yes, you know what to do!

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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