Disagreeing agreeably: An essential skill in the Canadian workplace

Read Original Version (CLB5+) You are reading the Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

How to disagree at work

Knowing how to disagree is important in the workplace. Objecting, pointing out an error, or arguing a point are normal and may be helpful in improving work. How do you disagree without offending anyone?

How people disagree in other cultures

Different cultures deal with disagreement differently.

  1. French and Germans welcome disagreement. It is “being honest and transparent”.
    (The secret to disagreeing with people from 20 different countries in one chart, Ana Swanson, The Washington Post).
  2. People from Southeast Asian cultures may take disagreement personally. They don’t like disagreements.
  3. Disagreement is ok in Canada but do it respectfully. Communication is indirect and you have to soften your language.

Why do we need to know these differences?

  • We work in multicultural environments.
  • It will help us to be more mindful when we communicate.
  • It helps us understand others, prevent misunderstandings and helps us choose the most effective way to communicate in the workplace.

How to disagree politely in the Canadian workplace:

  1. Stay calm

    You will speak better when you are calm. You will have a respectful tone.

  2. Be professional

    Don’t use insults or sarcasm.

  3. Copy other people’s communication style

    Canadians will never say “You are wrong!” or “I disagree with you”.

    Three ways they will disagree:

    • Show that they understand the other person’s opinion
      Sample phrases:
    • “I understand where you are coming from, but I think…”
      “Hmmn, that’s interesting. But the way I see it…”
      “I see, but in my opinion …”
      “I see your point of view, but…”
      “That’s a fair point, but …”

    • Start with an apology
      Sample phrases:
    • “I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you on . . .”
      “I’m sorry, but I respectfully (or beg to) disagree.”

    • Pretend they’re not sure
      Sample phrases:
    • “I’m not sure I agree with that. I think . . .”
      “Maybe I’m wrong, but …”

  4. Offer another solution

    You can say: “If you ask me, I think we should…” or “What do you think about doing _____ instead?”

  5. Separate the issue from the person

    Disagree with a statement or an idea not the person. Maintain a good relationship with your co-workers. Don’t resent them after the discussion.

  6. Accept differences

    Say “let’s agree to disagree on this” if you can’t come up with an agreement.

Learn more useful phrases from this video from Jennifer ESL:

Sources: The most productive ways to disagree across cultures, Erin Meyer, INSEAD; The secret to disagreeing with people from 20 different countries in one chart, Ana Swanson, The Washington Post; Five useful ways to disagree politely in English, English Live; and Learn English with Bob the Canadian, Part 3: How to disagree politely, YouTube. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Employment equity in Manitoba

Two people shaking hands with charts on the wall in the backgorund

What exactly is employment equity? Why is it necessary? Attend this workshop to get answers to all these questions.

How to build your professional network

Two people shaking hands with charts on the wall in the backgorund

We always hear that to advance your career you must build a network, but exactly how do we do this?… Read more »

Workplace Communications

A woman giving a presentation at work

Course Description Workplace Communications (WorkCom) is a 4 week course. This course focuses on must-haves for successful communication at work: speaking formally,… Read more »

Webinar for Internationally Educated Engineers

desk with two laptops with two persons discussing paperwork

Disclaimer The views and opinions expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily represent those of  English Online  or Immigration, Refugees… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.