Picture this. You’re in a 4-hour meeting. You’re tired, and you don’t want to be there. As the meeting drags on, it seems that there is one person in the meeting who has no idea what is going on. They don’t seem to understand the situation. The more they talk, the more you believe they don’t have a clue. To make things worse, it looks like more and more people are siding with them. “How could this be happening?” you think. “Am I the only one that understands how wrong this person is?”

Before you jump into the conversation to tell them how wrong they are, take a moment to understand your motivation. Reflect to see if you are doing this for yourself, for others, or for them.

Is it for yourself? – If you are jumping into the conversation just to build yourself up, it’s best not to say a word. You will come across as confrontational, and your comments could stop the discuss cold. It’s exceptionally important not to speak if you find yourself agitated or irritated, a clear sign that you have worked your way into fight or flight mentality. Give your emotions a chance to settle down before saying anything.

Is it for the other person? – Be careful with this one. It’s easy to convince our self that our motives are pure, but they rarely are. Double check to see if that is your true motive. If so, start by asking leading questions. Also, talk only about the situation, not the person. Avoid “Why” questions, as they can sometimes come across as an accusation. Stick to “How” and “What” questions, if possible.

Is it for the others? – At times, the other’s in the room might need a different perspective. What you say might bring up a different view on the issue or shed light on a possible pitfall. Whatever the situation might be, address the issue, not the person. Assume the other person is doing the best they can with the information they have

Saying your piece with the wrong motive can be worse than not saying a thing. It’s easier to say something later than fix a damaged relationship. (Exception might be if the building is on fire!!) We all have times when we “knew” we are right to find out later that we didn’t understand the situation. What other ways have you found to disagree with someone while preserving the relationship?