${ company.text }

Be the first to rate this company   Not rated   ${ company.score } stars     ${ company.industry}     ${ company.headquarters}

Career Resources

${ getArticleTitle(article) }


${ tag.display_name }


${ getCommunityPostText(community_post) }


${ contributor.full_name }

${ contributor.short_bio }

Jobs For Employers

Join InHerSight's growing community of professional women and get matched to great jobs and more!

Sign up now

Already have an account? Log in ›

  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. April 5, 2024

Better Conversations: 8 Experts Answer ’How Do I Voice a Contradictory Opinion at Work?’

Speaking truth to power

Woman voicing opinion at work
Photo courtesy of Mart Production

It’s hard to speak up in a group, especially when you’re the sole voice of opposition. It takes courage to express a different brainstorm idea or criticize a point of view that's already got support. 

And it’s not just rank and file employees who have trouble bringing up contradictory opinions. Phil McKinney, the former chief technology officer at HP, writes that “in the current economic climate, many leaders are retreating from their R&D and innovation efforts and ‘playing it safe.’ Groupthink is becoming more prevalent, with leaders adopting a safety-in-numbers mentality and opting to stay under the radar.”


Basically because it’s easier to follow than lead. It’s hard to go against the crowd at the best of times, but when you’re in an uncertain position (whether that’s the economy or your own job security), that adds another layer of difficulty.

Plus, most of us are people pleasers and joiners. We’d much rather be seen as agreeable and personable than contradictory and obstinate.

Read more: The Problem with Groupthink in the Workplace? Everything

On the other hand, your participation helps the entire group, according to research. Investment strategist Joachim Klement points to a 2010 joint study by Anita Williams Woolley et al., which found that how team members speak to each other is “statistically significant” in terms of the group’s collective intelligence.

“Teams where members spoke more equally among themselves and different people took turns to speak were more collectively intelligent than teams where speaking was dominated by a single individual or where speaking was more unequally distributed among team members,” Klement writes.  

The problem remains, though: How do you speak up, especially when voicing a contradictory opinion at work?

Here are eight workplace experts to answer that question.

Read more: 33 Encouraging Quotes to Inspire Confidence & Growth

Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of EDA, Inc. and cofounder of WomenExecs on Boards, tells InHerSight there’s a holistic view to consider:

Being able to share a contradictory opinion at work, have a healthy debate, push back, disagree, and brainstorm alternative ideas is a crucial part of a healthy organization, but my decades of experience working with leaders has informed me that it is a universal weakness. Most people just don’t like conflict and are not willing to create it even if they believe it is needed.

From an organizational standpoint, this is a culture issue. Using Peter Drucker’s explanation that culture is ‘the way we do things around here,’ the best way to ensure your workforce feels comfortable voicing concerns, alternative views, etc. is to have a culture that encourages it and makes it safe. 

Many leaders do not realize that they can begin now to shape their culture for the future and within one to three years of diligent shaping, can create the kind of culture where healthy debate is safe, encouraged, and expected. 

Importantly, if they choose not to address it, the organization is sure to lose out on the innovation and positive performance that comes from such an environment. 

Read more: Uptalk & The Importance of Normalizing Women’s Speech Patterns

I believe that all leaders can learn to create compelling, high-performance cultures that last, but they can’t do it without education and support. It also has to start at the top. CEOs must require that the corporate culture become conducive for disagreement and healthy debate. The senior teams must embrace this concept and show continuously that they are open to it. They must all learn how to do it and when it is appropriate versus just disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing. 

Creating this culture takes some effort, but it is worth it because compelling, high-performance cultures have more creativity and innovation than other organizations. They produce more, have more engaged employees with less sick leave and turnover, and they are able to attract top talent. For those leaders who are all about the numbers, there is a real financial incentive to creating such a culture.

From an individual standpoint, I encourage all leaders to become great at crucial conversations. In fact, there is a book called Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High that I personally recommend for every leader I work with. So few people are skilled at it, that if an individual takes the time to become great at it, many doors will open. When problems are not addressed because no one wants conflict, it creates a leadership gap that everyone can feel and that is a great opportunity for someone who has become skilled at this to step into the gap.

Read more: Your Toxic Workplace Checklist: 16 Signs the Culture Is Bad for Business

How do you become good at it? First, decide to become skilled and make a plan for yourself.

If I were helping someone make this plan, I would have them read:

  • Crucial Conversations

  • Never Split the Difference

  • Getting to Yes

I would also teach them or ask them to learn the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Management Model so that they understand that using one approach to conflict is not effective. We must be able to adapt depending on the environment, importance and need.

I would also teach them or ask them to learn the Myers-Briggs methodology and take the assessment for communication self-awareness and also understanding the various ways others communicate.

Being able to challenge in a healthy way is a learnable skill and anyone who chooses to can learn it. Those who do are likely to get promoted and find themselves in positions of power because so few people want to take the time or have the stomach to become good at this.

Here are a few specific tips that I personally use:

  • Listen carefully to understand the other person’s point of view. Try to stop your own mental “agree vs. disagree.” 

  • Ask yourself how important the topic is before deciding how to engage.

    • If it’s important enough to take the time to get to a win win, be prepared to take the time necessary to get to a place where everyone wins.

    • If you need a quick resolution, you may want to share feedback and then compromise on the final answer.

Read more: The Importance of Building Trust at Work

There are many approaches, so think about it before picking a path. Most of us have a preferred way of resolving conflict but one way cannot address all concerns. I like to move fast so I like to compromise, but there are times when I need to win (and let the other person lose), or I need to collaborate to a win/win, or I need to walk away and let emotions die down before returning. You get the idea.

I also believe that it is very important to build a lot of give into your stance. I once had a friend who argued about everything. Even when we had clearly pointed out an error in his argument, he stuck to it and continued to try to win the argument. It was both annoying and ineffective.

Having some ability to give is very helpful because I may bring up a problem or error or want to debate but if I’m not willing to really see and hear from the other person, I’m not going to be effective. It also goes a long way to show the other person you are confident enough to explore every angle and work together to find the right solution. Needing to be right isn’t helpful.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can Leaders & Managers Build Cultures of Trust?

Career coach Jenn Smith tells InHerSight that company leaders who don’t set up the work environment as a safe place to voice differing opinions and perspectives will fail.

Leaders must create a space for team members to feel like they can be open and go against groupthink (i.e., lead by example, ask someone to play devil's advocate, reward/encourage those who speak up, and add new ideas, etc.). And as a career change coach, I can't help but mention that if someone is not in a work environment where others aren't open to new and different ideas, it might be time to find a workplace that values new approaches.

As a team member going against the grain, here are some considerations: 

  • First, take time to understand the idea entirely. Ask questions to ensure you understand the goals and implications.

  • Approach the conversation objectively; you might first acknowledge the positive aspects of the idea or situation. 

  • Focus on improvement—emphasize that the goal of the discussion is to improve something, not tear down someone else’s idea. 

  • Clearly articulate your concerns and reservations and if possible, provide data or evidence as support. 

  • Offer alternatives or begin a discussion around new ideas.

Someone I used to work with was very good at this. She would say, "I'm curious what would happen if we did it this way...". It always felt genuine and opened a new way to think about something.  

  • Remain open-minded and receptive to others—this will help bring the group along with you. 

  • Work toward gaining a consensus and compromise where possible.

  • Lastly, consider the timeline; these situations often require multiple discussions, so be open to revisiting the conversation a few different times.

While these steps would remain the same in a workplace that doesn’t encourage voicing contradictory opinions, the process would start differently. Try having a few one-off conversations, especially if you’re not very comfortable speaking in front of a bigger group. This approach might take a little longer, but can be very effective.

Read more: Perspective: How Gender Roles at Work Affect Everyone

Personal branding consultant Melanie L. Denny tells InHerSight that you can criticize ideas in a constructive manner. Ask questions before delivering your opinion and try framing your contribution positively, using the sandwich technique.

The fact is, people don’t like conflict and most would prefer to go with the grain even though they disagree just to avoid dealing with a difference of opinion—especially if most members of the group are in agreement. But, it’s important for you to speak up and let your voice be heard to foster innovation and provide a unique perspective that could be highly valuable. You could be sitting on the next big thing for the company! So, I’d rather you speak up and disagree, than to go with the flow and miss out on a great opportunity to contribute something new. 

Here are some strategies to voice a different idea or criticize an existing one in a constructive manner:

  • Be selective with when and where you share your conflicting views. Choose an appropriate time and setting to express your ideas. Avoid doing it in a way that may make others defensive or uncomfortable.

  • Frame your contribution positively. Use the sandwich technique, where you start with a positive slice of bread, share the opposing point of view (the meat), then end with another positive slice of bread. This keeps the tone light and allows space for people to be more receptive to what you have to say.

  • Stay calm. Emotional reactions can hinder effective communication and force you to use words that may cause more harm than good. It’s okay to be passionate about the topic, but be careful not to come off too angry. This may be off-putting and cause a rippling effect of negative emotions. If possible, review your statements ahead of time so you’re prepared, calm, and collected.

  • Choose your words wisely. Be mindful of the language you use. Avoid confrontational or accusatory language. Instead, choose words that are respectful and diplomatic. Stay away from “you” statements and focus on “I” statements. Keeping the focus on you and your thoughts avoids the perception of you placing blame on others.

  • Provide data and give examples where possible. Support your ideas or criticism with facts, data, or real-world examples. Concrete evidence can be persuasive and make your point more compelling. In business, facts and numbers don’t lie. The more fact-based your opinion is, the more you’ll gain buy-in.

  • Ask thoughtful questions before giving your opinion. Instead of outright criticizing the idea, ask thoughtful questions that prompt others to reconsider or think deeper about certain aspects of the idea. This encourages a more reflective approach so people are encouraged to come up with their own alternatives.

  • Continually build strong relationships. Cultivating positive relationships within the group increases the likelihood that people will listen to and consider ideas from those they trust and respect.

Read more: 13 Signs of a Positive Workplace Culture

Jill Chapman, Director of Early Talent Programs at Insperity, tells InHerSight that people who want to escape groupthink decisions need to listen, research, and think scenarios through completely.

Groupthink can greatly impact business decisions. A group may be made up of bright, business-savvy individuals, but it is human nature to occasionally fall into groupthink. Many people want to get along with the group, but if maintaining that shared positive view or decision does not make business sense, it is important for someone to call attention to it. 

Better yet, when working in a group, the manager or leader of the group should set ground rules. These could be encouraging creative brainstorming from the start, supporting critical thinking or questioning, and inviting an outsider to objectively weigh in on the decision or project.

Read more: What It Means to Know Your Worth & 7 Ways to Improve On It  

For the individual bound and determined to not fall into the groupthink trap, it is important to:  

  • Listen. In a group, many people feel like they need to talk more to convince others of their idea or solution. Listening to the group and thinking critically about each element, taking it under consideration, can help prevent falling into groupthink.  

  • Research. Take the initiative to do your own independent research on the subject to help the group determine a good course of action. The more you know about the subject or options, the more confident you become in your suggestions. 

  • Mean what you say. The most charismatic or outgoing person can sway others into a poor group decision. After listening and learning more on the subject, offer a confident solution based on fact. When a suggestion is based on knowledge, it is much easier to counter groupthink.  

  • Think through scenarios. As potential solutions are considered within the group, go through “if this, then” exercises. As the team responsible for all viable ideas, even those that seem to be the perfect solution, ask: If we do this for the company, then what happens next? For example, these decisions could impact sales, affect customers, or reflect poorly on the company’s public image. Leading the group through the ripple effect of their decision can help identify weaknesses and encourage new solutions.

Read more: How Misogyny Became Part of Our Culture & Workplaces

Career consultant Debra Cruz tells InHerSight we should all be more like Allan McDonald, the engineer who refused to approve the 1986 Challenger launch, in the face of overpowering NASA pushback and pressure.

How do you go against groupthink? 

  • Acknowledge you have a personal responsibility for your contribution. Your views, beliefs and perspectives will be expressed during brainstorming sessions, or during one-on-one meetings. Know yourself, be sincere and genuine while maintaining respect and professionalism.

  • Preparation is important for your professional development as well as establishingyour persuasiveness. Learning how to articulate your thoughts effectively will strengthen your influence and your input. 

Moreover, it builds your confidence when having to challenge a conflicting view. For example, by attending conferences and/or workshops in your field, you will learn innovative ideas to share with your team where best practices were previously tested and a success. Joining webinars outside of your field will expose you to new information, expanding your breadth and depth of knowledge.

  • Read newsletters, blogs or literature written by experts to enhance your knowledge. Becoming informed prepares you to contribute during discussions using supportive expert input from these sources.

Groupthink can exist without you knowing it. In most work environments, employees work cooperatively as part of a team. They have shared goals, and strive for excellence for a common purpose. Groupthink becomes more apparent when there is a persuasive leader, manager, or supervisor who may or may not allow creativity amongst the members. There are stressful conditions or pressure from deadlines, and/or a demanding schedule. Collectively, everyone is striving to achieve results without considering alternative outcomes.

Read more: What Is Marginalization & What Can You Do About It?

Heather Whelpley, a leadership development consultant, speaker and author, tells InHerSight that the barriers to speaking up don’t originate from within. Even so, you can remove them.

There’s no way around it—there are barriers to speaking up at work, especially when you’re voicing a dissenting opinion. Some of those barriers appear to come from inside of you. For example, the imposter syndrome inner critic can make you feel like you don’t know enough to share your voice. People-pleasing will say that you have to keep everyone happy and you’re not allowed to disappoint anyone. Perfectionism can tell you that you’re not allowed to make a mistake. 

Even though these barriers feel internal, they don’t originate from inside of you. They come from the fact that women are more likely to be questioned and interrupted. They’re fed by microaggressions, like someone rolling their eyes when you speak up or being told to smile more when you’re assertive. They stem from feedback that you can be too direct, aggressive, or angry—and the request that you rein yourself in.

These barriers are real. At the same time, your voice creates change. Your new ideas impact customers, colleagues, policies and processes. Speaking up on behalf of yourself impacts your career development, compensation, and well-being. Your voice is needed in your workplace—and the world!

So how do you get through the barriers that come with sharing your voice? Two tactics have helped me and the audiences in my speaking engagements more than anything.

Read more: 12 Women Thought Leaders We Love

First, decide what is more important than the barriers. 

What is more important than the potential pushback you might get for disagreeing? What is bigger than the fear of making a mistake while speaking up? What is more important than disappointing someone?

Use your answer as the motivation to share your voice even when it’s hard. Choose courage over confidence and say the thing that needs to be said.

Second, get an ally. This ally can turn the conversation back to you if you get interrupted. They can ask a question to open the conversation and dive deeper into what you’re sharing. They can voice their support for your dissenting opinion. Your ally can create space for your voice to be heard. 

You can get an ally for a specific situation where you’ll be challenging the status quo or form an ongoing ally partnership with a colleague. You create space for their voice, they create space for yours, and we all get heard together.

Read more: 6 Examples of Coded Language in the Workplace & How to Eliminate the Practice

Executive career strategist, business brand promoter and CEO of Career Trend, Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, tells InHerSight that as long as your contradictory opinion is based on a desire to improve the idea being discussed, you should take steps to speaking your truth.

While going against the groupthink grain can be scary, it ultimately can be exhilarating and liberate you from the angst of holding in your truth.

Overthinking and overanalyzing how you will address the dissenting conversation can lead to consternation and analysis paralysis. However, assuming your contrary opinion is coming from a place of genuine desire to improve upon the idea at hand, and you have valid proof to back up your idea, then simply stepping into the sea of uncertainty can be the best path forward.

The steps to presenting your contradictory opinion are:

  • Do your homework: Say that the group has decided to send all salespeople across the country to attend a weeklong trade show, but you disagree. You have studied recent years’ trades how reports and can prove that the thousands (or even 10s of thousands) of dollars invested in airfare, hotel, food, entertainment, etc. is not providing the ROI it once did.
  • Be prepared to present fortifying proof: Based on your research, you have ideated methods to network and market the company’s product or service value on a more virtual or localized basis that doesn’t require uprooting sales professionals and devoting time and budget to travel. You’ve done your homework and have built a metric-imbued case as to why your idea is better. Having this information on hand to present or loosely articulate in conversation is invaluable.
  • Know your audience: Knowing your audience and the individuals therein is crucial to having a meaningful and respectful conversation versus just being a contrarian. For example, it may be that some of the group will respond with relief that someone (you!) finally spoke up with this dissenting opinion. But there may be one or two diehards whose hearts are set on attending this annual trade show. In these instances, ensuring you are communicating with consideration to their feelings versus just throwing a wet blanket on their expectations is important.

Read more: Learn How to Say ‘No’ Professionally

  • Offer flexible alternatives: It may also be that your solution is multipronged. For example, if it’s feasible to do so, suggest the option that some salespeople attend the tradeshow, while others do not, based on individuals’ unique schedules as well as the potential financial considerations of each individual decision.

In other words, opening up a dissenting opinion that is also flexible enables a more fluid and collaborative exchange versus a one-way assertion. And, in the end, this conversational approach to pivoting the groupthink toward new pathways can prove to be a win-win proposition.

It also enables you to flex your muscles in courage, hone your critical thinking and practice your influence and communications skills. It may provide another win for your resume story that bolsters your credibility, underpins your leadership value and advances your reputation.

Read more: 23 Phrases That Create Psychologically Safe Conversations at Work

Rebecca Fraser-Thill, an ICF-certified career coach, tells InHerSight that an explicit shift in how you think about meetings can make all the difference: You’re debating ideas, not people.

Before the debate, get ready:

1. Practice expressing your opinion in low-stakes situations.

Groupthink thrives in particular situations, including when there’s a charismatic leader, high stress and urgency, and when group members identify strongly with one another. We typically have little control over these circumstances, but there are ways we can strengthen ourselves to more effectively use our voices no matter the situation.

Being able to share our opinion comes with practice; it’s a muscle we need to build like any other. Given this, identifying low-stakes situations when you can exercise your voice is an invaluable first step. From proclaiming which movie we’d like to watch with friends to suggesting the dining location for a family outing, there are myriad opportunities to speak our voices among people who will accept us no matter what we say. 

After practicing your opinion consistently among warm and accepting people, work your way up to sharing your thoughts around opinionated friends, and then to bucking the trend at work around relatively unimportant topics, like the food at a department social. The more often you speak up, the easier it becomes to vocalize opinions even in stressful situations, like a fraught decision-making meeting at work. 

2. Get to know your colleagues.

Another key to voicing our opinions at work is knowing we have allies in the room with us. It doesn’t matter whether those allies will actually go to bat for our ideas within the meeting or can only bring themselves to offer silent support—knowing that what we’re saying has backing builds confidence and strength in our convictions.

Given this, it’s imperative to get to know your colleagues outside of the brainstorming sessions and other meetings in which you interact. Who are they as people, what do they care about, and how do they relate to their work lives? Gaining this knowledge takes proactive effort, especially in remote environments where spontaneous chats simply won’t happen. Schedule coffee or lunch conversations, whether virtual or in person, and make it clear that you simply want to get to know one another a bit better, or suggest that there is a five-minute window for banter at the beginning of substantive meetings. 

Even when a colleague proves to have a very different opinion than your own within a meeting, knowing them personally can help take the “fangs” off their push for a particular solution—and vice versa.

Read more: 8 Clear Signs There’s Trust & Psychological Safety in a Workplace 

3. Come in as well prepared as possible.

A major reason groupthink occurs is because the group members aren’t knowledgeable enough to make persuasive opposing arguments. How many of us have sat in a meeting thinking the group’s direction was all wrong but kept questioning whether we “missed something” in our reading of the relevant documents? 

To head off that very common experience, be sure to schedule time in advance of meetings for thoughtful prep. Read all the documentation that is offered up before the meeting thoroughly and/or review minutes from past relevant meetings, if they exist. If you feel like you’re still missing key pieces of information about the group’s goals, proactively reach out to the group leader to inquire more before the meeting or brainstorming session occurs. 

Certainly this all takes extra work, but it’s the type of effort that is noticed in most workplaces and typically results in enhanced responsibility and respect. While it may feel easier and more palatable to be uninformed and passive in work groups, the people who get promoted are those who are being seen and heard—and all the better if it’s someone who is actually doing so in an informed manner, like you can!

4. Debate ideas, not people.

If after following the previous steps—building your own skills in voicing your opinion, getting to know your colleagues, and preparing thoroughly for meetings—you still feel like it’s still too intimidating to share a different or opposing opinion at work, a shift in meeting framing may be in order. 

The explicit shift should be for group members to think about discussion as a debate of ideas, not a debate of people. 

If you’re the meeting organizer, you can readily create this shift by starting the next meeting discussing this goal, stating that you’d like to see the group picture ideas as being thrown in the “center” of the room, unattached to the person who said it, and then batted around as a possibility by a variety of other ideas—again, not necessarily owned or held by the people who put them forward. 

If you’re not the meeting organizer, the shift can be more challenging to create, but it’s certainly possible. You can either ask to meet with the organizer and propose the shift in perspective, for the good of the topics at hand. Or you can bring it to the group as an individual as a preface to sharing your own opinion: 

“Before I put my idea forward, I’d like to say that I don’t necessarily believe or ‘own’ this or any position I state—and it may be more effective for our decision-making process if none of us have to feel like we fully believe or own our ideas before saying them. Can we debate the ideas, not the people who put them forward? We want a great X at the end of this meeting, and I think this would help us meet that goal most effectively.”

The majority of the time, this framing frees the group up to move away from groupthink and into a healthier conversation about possibilities.

About our expert${ getPlural(experts) }

About our author${ getPlural(authors) }

Share this article

Don't Miss Out

Create a free account to get unlimited access to our articles and to join millions of women growing with the InHerSight community

Looks like you already have an account!
Click here to login ›

Invalid email. Please try again!

Sign up with a social account or...

If you already have an account, click here to log in. By signing up, you agree to InHerSight's Terms and Privacy Policy


You now have access to all of our awesome content

Looking for a New Job?

InHerSight matches job seekers and companies based on millions of workplace ratings from women. Find a job at a place that supports the kinds of things you're looking for.