How to Lead People You Don’t Agree With

Conflict at Work

Politics and religion…

These are two topics that many people suggestion should stay “non-topics” in a polite society.

Fightin’ Words

Following politics in any country shows the passion that people have for their points of view. In the recent election for US President, the voting populace was severely divided.

Families fought and friendships ended.

But, what about at work?  Can you lead someone that you disagree with politically, religiously or otherwise?

Religion and politics are the third rail of work.  No one is supposed to talk about them or be upset about differences.

But is this realistic?  No.

Diversity and the global nature of work have caused an integration of people that, left to their own devices, might not associate with each other otherwise.

Leading Through Opinions

So, if we have to work with and lead people we don’t agree with how do we do it? 

Why is it hard to do?

There are two main reasons it’s hard to work with those that you disagree.

1. You see parts of yourself and your beliefs that you don’t really like

“The reason you can’t stand that person in the first place, is that they remind you of what you can’t stand about yourself.- Peter Bregman

2. It causes you to question your beliefs

Any time someone has a worldview or set of beliefs that are different than yours, it calls your beliefs into question.  That is never easy or comfortable.  But, unless its something fundamental like “thou shall not kill”, it can give you different perspective and help you see the world through other’s eyes.

So what do you do about it?

Engage and Finding Common Ground

Work hard to find things to agree and work together on.  There are often more similarities than differences between people. Organizations and teams are ripe with a variety areas to have common ground:

  • Team goals
  • Project completion
  • Project outcomes
  • Company success
  • Professional growth

Regularly explore and expand on them.

Whenever I take on a new team, I always meet with each person and spend time exploring our commonalities.  This way we can begin to build on those right away.  Differences come easily. If they show up after you’ve already built a foundation of commonalities, they are less likely to impact how work together effectively.

Focus on What They Do Well

No matter what you think of someone’s views, they often are exceptional, or at least capable, in a few areas.  When leading someone that you don’t agree with it’s important to keep those skills at the forefront when working with them.

Otherwise, the people you don’t agree with will become stereotypes.

Conservatives will seem militant; liberals will seem noncommittal, etc.  This occurs because of a phenomenon called “self fulfilling prophecy.”

“A self-fulfilling prophecy is a thought or expectation that occurs because it has been thought. For example, when a teacher assumes that a certain student is not intelligent, the teacher might give that student less positive attention and more negative attention, resulting in poorer performance by the student….. Our behavior can affect others, particularly people over whom we have authority or with whom we spend significant amounts of time.” ~

The problem is that it can impact the folks we lead and work with. Working with people that are different than us can make us better if we let it.  Remember to focus on each person’s positives.

Don’t Dwell on What You Don’t Agree

When there is an area or topic that you don’t agree with someone about, don’t make it the focal point of your relationship.  It is not healthy and makes the team less productive.

  • Time spent trying to change an opinion that doesn’t impact the success or failure of the team is time wasted.
  • Move on and focus on activities THAT WILL PRODUCE RESULTS.
  • Surprisingly, people are much more tolerant of others when they are winning.
  • Focus on being a high performance team creates tolerance.

Seeking Out Their Opinion

Some of the very best advice given is from folks that you don’t agree with politically or philosophically.  Their opinion is unvarnished. Compliments are more sincere, criticism more pointed and solutions more clear.

People that think differently than you come at issues, problems, etc. from a perspective you don’t have.

It provides for rich ideas that you might not think of on your own or with someone who thinks like you. Actively seek out opinions of those you don’t agree with, you will develop better solutions and become a better person in the process.

Fightin’ Fair

In order to have a high performing team or organization, ideas and solutions must come from everywhere.  People must feel free to share their thoughts without worrying about self-censoring their own beliefs.  This stifles creativity and tamps down productivity.

  • Stick up for their right to have an opinion different than yours and of others.
  • Champion the voice of those that you don’t agree with.
  • Make sure they have the platform to speak and share ideas.

Real leaders and partners give voice to everyone on the team, not just the ones that are the same religion or political affiliation.

Being a leader means that you will work with all kinds of people, those that you agree with and those you don’t. You are creating a legacy with every interaction. What is it that you are creating?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Anil Saxena
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | TwitterWeb | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

Image Sources:


2 responses to “How to Lead People You Don’t Agree With

    • What I should have added to the comment was that the model is a good one and neutralizing the egos by focusing on common ground.
      It is what TA says – keep yourself and the other person in the Adult problem solving ego state.

      You can do this as the article suggests by good listening skills as people want to feel they have been listened to and understood fully and accurately. Once you can demonstrate that you grasp their intent then you can use tools like an Itemized response technique to review first all the key positives in their ideas and then the downsides where the focus can then go to how to solve or account for them.


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s