How to approach disagreements

How to approach disagreements

Step on your ego. Focus on the team. The goal is to learn.


I have disagreed with people at Bobsled. I have disagreed with people in my previous company. I have disagreed with people many times in my life.

Disagreements are unavoidable. They aren't bad, they are good. When disagreements happen is where exciting discussions happen. Times we can learn and potentially discover new things.

However, disagreements can be harmful, they can hurt the team, and it all depends on the individuals involved in the disagreement.

What are disagreements?

Let's take a step back. Why do disagreements happen?

In software engineering, we're working in teams. When trying to solve a problem or implement a solution, we may have different ideas we prefer due to our experience and current knowledge. Notice I say current knowledge because knowledge is always growing as time pass.

When we have different ideas we prefer, that's where the conflict happens. However, because we work in a team, we have to discuss, collaborate and ideally come to a consensus on the approach we prefer together as a team.

As mentioned in the introduction, disagreements can either go well and be rewarding, or they can be harmful. It depends on the soft skills of the individuals involved.

The bad approach

You may already be picking up where I'm heading in this article. The bad approach to disagreements begins with the mindset. Are you trying to win the discussion or trying to find the approach that's more suitable for the team at the moment?

Trying to win the discussion is bad. Your focus during the discussion will only be trying to find arguments and reasons for why your idea is superior and should be chosen, instead of listening and thinking thoroughly.

One of the issues here is that if the other person feels offended, they may try to take the same approach, and defend their idea in every way.

Phrases you may hear when a person takes this approach:

  • "Trust me, I have done this before a million times."

  • "We don't have time for your approach."

  • "This is how we always do it though."

  • "Why do you want to suddenly change things?"

The better approach

The better approach is to find a suitable solution for the current moment. In this scenario, you're not frustrated that the disagreement happened, you're excited.

You're excited because you understand that there are things both you and your teammate can learn, and potentially after discussing you may even discover an entirely new approach that's more suitable than both your approaches.

You don't think of your idea as your idea, you think of it as an idea among ideas. You listen to your teammate. You begin by thinking of the good in their approach.

If there are things you're concerned about, you don't begin preaching, instead, you ask questions. You never know if the teammate has already considered the concern. For instance:

  • ⭕ "If a third route needs this component, then this won't work..."
  • ✅ "I see where you are coming from. I'm curious, if we have a third route that needs to use this component, how would we approach it?"

In the second statement, notice the usage of we. This shows it's you and the teammate against the problem. That's the team spirit and mindset to have!

Phrases you may hear when a person takes this approach:

  • "I see where you're coming from. I like the point XYZ, because..."

  • "That's interesting. I never thought of it from that perspective, to be honest. I do like how it begins with XYZ..."

  • "I can understand your concerns. But thinking about it, if that was risky, the situation would likely occur a few years from now. Do you think we can deal with the concerns once the time comes?"

It's beautiful when you hear such discussions. Both parties are asking questions, learning and trying to help each other.

It's a productive disagreement.


With this, we can conclude that disagreements have two sides to them. The beautiful and the ugly side. The beautiful one is rewarding, and surely achievable every single time, however, it depends on the character of the parties involved.