How to Disagree Without Being Seen as Bitchy

5 tips for avoiding negative judgments when you disagree

Posted Apr 01, 2013

A recent study found that being agreeable—acting more cooperatively and placing greater value on relationships—equates to less pay. Although the negative effect of “playing nice” showed up more for men than women, agreeableness did affect earnings and promotion possibilities for both men and women, at least in the US. The study included thousands of Americans.

In this time when collaboration seems to be the key to success, it looks like the strong voice of dissent is still valued. The study clarified that being disagreeable did not include expressing anger, demanding to be heard or acting rude; it defined "disagreeable" as assertively expressing a contrarian viewpoint.

Does this mean women should push themselves to voice their opinions? Yes and maybe. Yes, you should share ideas and perspective that conflict with the general view because they can be useful and your contribution will be noticed. Yet the way you express yourself will affect how well you will be heard and judged.

Even though the definitions of what is considered appropriately “masculine” and “feminine” are blurring, the outdated judgments people make on what is gender-acceptable behavior remains. The study on agreeableness found the range of what was acceptable behavior in “disagreeable” men is still broader than for women. The persistent double standard where men are called “honest and direct” and women are called “bitchy” when  standing up for what we believe still exists whether we like it or not.

Regardless, the results bode well for women who want to be seen as more than nurturing and caring.. Smart, strong women have other strengths too. In my research, I found the current generation of high-achieving women in the workplace to be:

  • Quick thinkers
  • Solution finders
  • Action-oriented, meaning work gets done on time or early
  • Tenacious
  • Passionate

As I have mentioned in many of my previous blogs, the overuse of any strength can be harmful. For example:

  • Quick thinkers often judge those who are slow to decide to be incompetent.
  • Solution finders take on all the work, not allowing other people to learn.
  • Too much action depletes time for reflection.
  • Strongly-held opinions block out new possibilities (if you already know the answer then there is nothing new to see).
  • Passion can be overwhelming, pushing people away instead of engaging them.

How can you use your strengths to be positively disagreeable?

  1. Ask questions and give people time to think before you share your ideas. You might find a way to adapt your thoughts to their needs and problems. If so, you are more likely to be heard and considered a leader.
  2. Trust other people can come up with solutions, too. Then when you share yours, look for the win-win solution by finding common ground to combine ideas. You will get better buy-in for the implementation, freeing you up to focus on your most important work.
  3. Before you go into a meeting, take 10 seconds to breathe and decide how you want to show up in the meeting, including how you want to feel. Choose one word to be your keyword to recall this vision. Do you want to be seen as a visionary with plans that benefit all? This would be more effective than hoping to be the hero or superstar where you message could annoy others instead of inspire them.
  4. Allow people to react negatively to your ideas without getting angry or condescending. Hear them out, acknowledge their points, and reiterate your stand with grace as well as strength. It is wiser to present your view without slamming other people’s ideas. Keep your head above the battle.
  5. Be aware of when you are losing their attention. When your passion overwhelms, their energy will retreat. You don’t want to lose people; you need to engage them even if they don’t agree with you. Be clear and concise. You can always invite them to discuss the details with you later.

There is a payoff for letting your voice be heard even if you run the risk of being called bitchy. Practice presenting what you believe in a way that others will hear, understand and hopefully, align with your thinking. Listening more and practicing patience can make you even stronger when you decide to disagree.


You can find more tips on the post, The Fine Art of Female Assertiveness and in the book Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.