Have you ever been in a meeting or feedback session and not known how to express what you had to say? Especially when you disagree with someone? Or maybe you had a negative opinion? Maybe you’re not sure whether you’re being polite with your critique or not? Although much of the English in this case is straightforward (using conditional forms, for example), it can get tricky for non-natives to vocalize a contrary viewpoints.
There are some cultural differences that impact how different people handle these kinds of ‘uncomfortable’ opinions.
Here are a few approaches I often recommend when expressing opinions in American business culture.
Let’s break down a few key ones:
1. Restate the other person’s opinion
This shows that you heard the person and gives them a chance to correct anything you got wrong. Using their words can them feel you really “got them.” (This is a form of mirroring, which if used correctly can enhance your communication skills).
It’s also good to ask questions at this stage to make sure you understand what problem they were trying to solve or context they had in mind.
2. Present your opinion
But because you have something negative to say, it’s important to front load some positives. Point out the strength of the idea, how it fits with an overall objective of the project, etc. Show appreciation for the care or detail that went into it.
When you get to the critique point, state it honestly and clearly. Don’t leave it vague. And then back it up with data, your research, your expertise. Align it with the bigger picture. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge and specific insights. You’re speaking from a place of special skills and experience. That’s what the team and company want to hear. Bringing in data, user testing, deep research you have done will help support your view! So will presenting a broader context of the goals or framework that are guiding the project.
(It’s also important to keep it impersonal – avoid personal pronouns such as “you” and “yours.”)
3. Make sure you provide some suggestion for an improvement
The last point is important as well. Don’t just say you’re not sure if that font is correct in this context. Suggest something concrete – and again explain why it makes sense within the framework of the team mission or goal.