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disagree respectfully during a panel discussion

Although you have been selected to speak candidly about your perspective, you may be wondering how to disagree respectfully during a panel discussion. It’s bound to come up…you’ve done your research on your fellow panelists and you know you have differing opinions.


7 Tips on How to Disagree Respectfully During a Panel Discussion

  1. Be sure and clear about what you are disagreeing with. Before you open your mouth to disagree, make sure you have been actively listening and clearly understand the point your fellow panelist is making. If unsure, follow up with curiosity, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly. What you’re saying is … [summarize your understanding of their argument].”
  1. Ensure it is worth the effort and energy. Is it worth disagreeing about? Yes, you were asked to bring differing viewpoints and you want the audience to think you’re brilliant. But what would happen if you stayed quiet? What would be the consequences of your silence? What would be the consequences of disagreeing? Sometimes, in the big scheme of things, it’s not worth the effort and energy to disagree.
  1. Provide value to the audience. Review the promotional/marketing materials ahead of time and listen closely to the panel moderator’s opening comments. These two critical pieces set the expectations for the panel discussion and allow you to align your comments to the panel objectives.
    Katie Azevedo, M.Ed says, “It’s not always our place to disagree with someone in group discussions – and knowing this reality is very important. While self-advocacy is a valuable skill and disagreements often lead to constructive solutions, the greater skill is knowing when it’s appropriate to speak up.”
  1. Time it appropriately. Panel discussions move notoriously quickly and the conversation may have moved on. Or, the conversation has a friendly banter-ish vibe going on and you can interject even a minute or two later by saying, “I’d like to come back to what Indira said just a few minutes ago…” You can also save your idea for the closing remarks if you feel that window of opportunity has closed.
  1. Acknowledge the good bits. There has to be something your colleague said that you agree with. Acknowledge at least some part of their perspective before moving into disagreement. Try some phrases such as:
  • I really agree with what you said about [bit a], but I disagree with [bit b]
  • Thank you for your thoughts on [bit a], but I’m actually thinking [bit b]
  • I see your point about [bit a]; however, I think [new idea] would work better because [new idea]
  • I agree with your point about [bit a], but I have a different view about [bit b]
  • I understand what you’re saying about [bit a], but the way I see it is [new idea]
  • Though I agree with what you’re saying about [bit a], it seems to me that [new idea]
  • While I agree with you on [bit a], have you considered [new idea]?
  • I understand what you’re saying about [bit a]. On this other point about [bit b], [new idea]
  1. Be nice and play nice. As you disagree, don’t make the other person out to be the bad guy. You don’t need to go on the offensive and attack their ideas as “wrong” or “bad”. Instead, you simply have a different perspective. So use “I” statements to communicate how you feel, what you think, and what you want or need, while remaining calm, cool, and collected.

You can even use some “buffering words” to soften the blow:

  • I’m afraid I disagree
  • I beg to differ
  • I’m not so sure about that
  • I’m not quite sure I agree with you
  • Not necessarily
  • I’m not sure about that
  • I think I have a slightly different point of view
  • With due respect, I partly disagree with what you are saying

Or you can just go for it in a very direct fashion:

  • I don’t agree with what you just said
  • I don’t see it that way
  • The way I see it is [new idea]
  • Yes, and [new idea]
  • Don’t you think [new idea]
  • In my opinion, [new idea]
  • I am of the opinion that [new idea]
  • I would like to disagree a bit here
  1. Be concise. Since time is of the essence, speak clearly and concisely, refraining from sharing extraneous and/or irrelevant information and data that you would normally share when talking about this with your colleagues back at work.

Statements NOT to use when disagreeing with a fellow panelist:

  • “My honest opinion would be [new idea]” – this infers that your other statements weren’t honest/as honest?
  • “I see your point, but…” – the “but” negates anything you say after, so why not say, “I see your point, and [new idea]”?
  • “I’m sorry. I don’t agree.” What are you sorry for? Speaking your mind? If you’re “sorry” to speak up and you don’t think it adds value to the conversation, then don’t!
  • “No, I don’t agree with you.” This takes it into personal territory. Instead of saying “you,” say “What you just said.”
  • “I totally disagree with what you just said.” – adjectives and hyperboles are not your friends. “Totally”, “completely”, and “really” are not necessary words to interject your opinion.
  • “That’s a horrible idea!” Whoa! Now we are into judgment territory. Are you the final arbiter of the good, bad, and ugly ideas? If so, then go ahead, but don’t be surprised if sparks fly!

“Most important, though, regardless of the technique, is tone of voice”, says Lisa B Marshall. “You must take extra care to keep all sarcasm, anger, or frustration out of your tone. That’s really hard sometimes. But having a good frame of mind can help.”

How to Disagree Respectfully during a Panel Discussion when another Panelist is WRONG

But what if your fellow panelist is just flat out, plain WRONG and you KNOW it? Here are some starter sentences to disagree respectfully:

  • I’m not sure that’s completely true
  • (I’m afraid) I don’t think that’s right
  • I’m not sure that’s right
  • I’m not so sure about that
  • I’m not sure that’s a good idea because [rationale]
  • I’m not sure I can agree with that statement
  • I wouldn’t say that
  • That might be true, but in my experience [new idea]
  • That’s not always the case because [rationale]
  • That idea is not necessarily true because [rationale]
  • That idea isn’t supported by the evidence
  • I find it hard to believe that statement

Or you can take the “curious” approach and ask questions to follow up on what was said:

  • Interesting. Are you sure that’s possible?
  • Can you tell me why you think that way?
  • Let’s clarify our assumptions here
  • You seem to be assuming [xyz]. Do I understand you correctly?
  • Is this always the case? Are there any exceptions?

Finally, your objective in disagreeing with a fellow panelist in a panel discussion is not to prove yourself right or prove the other person wrong. The goal is to articulate and understand each other’s views and possibly even find a common ground or a synergistic solution or idea that will benefit the audience! So tell me, what are your tactics to disagree respectfully during a panel discussion?

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Panel Moderators: What to Do When Your Panelists Hate Each Other

Engage the Audience with the Agree/Disagree Game

For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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