How to Hold a Constructive Meeting Argument (Yes, You Heard That Right)

Arguing in certain situations can be inevitable. Here’s how to make it constructive.

From passive-aggressive remarks to not-so-sly side-eyes to long-winded tangents, arguments in meetings can be cringe-inducing (or entertaining, depending on your viewpoint). But regardless of the topic at hand, it can be all too easy for minor disputes to blow up into all-out verbal warfare. 

Of course, there is a common solution for easing tension amid such disputes, and it’s one you can easily modify for your own events: the presence of a moderator. 

With guidance from a recent Harvard Business Review article on how to approach disagreements at work, here are five tips for managing a constructive argument at your next meeting. (No, really, it’s possible.)

1. Don’t Fear It

As the HBR article suggests, it’s our natural human reaction to shy away from disagreement––we avoid situations that could potentially harm us. However, meeting attendees disagreeing on a topic opens up new avenues of thought, potentially spurring onlookers to question their own opinions. 

The gist? Don’t fear the bickering. Conflict can be productive.

2. Encourage Attendees to Ask Permission 

While potentially productive, that doesn’t make certain arguments any less jarring to hear (or partake in). One solution for softening the blow? Agreeing to disagree beforehand. 

Asking permission to disagree creates a psychological safety net of sorts, allowing the person on the receiving end of the counterpoint opinion to mentally prepare himself first. Plus, it’s just polite. 

3. … But Let Them Vent (in a Timely Manner)

While encouraging attendees to jump into an argument politely helps set a positive tone, being too wary of being truthful can be counterproductive. And yes, throwing out personal jabs isn’t a good idea, either––but you need to let attendees vent. 

However, try to keep each soapbox performance limited. You want your attendees to feel comfortable to speak their minds, but no one should have the floor to rant for the duration of the meeting. Let attendees know before the discussion that speakers get a maximum time to address the group. 

4. Be a Point of Empathy 

As an argument moderator, the last thing you want to do in your meeting is to take sides. Although attendees might look to you for backup (especially if they work with you), keep your empathy—and ears—open to everyone. 

5. Provide a Venue for Those Afraid to Speak Up 

While some people thrive with a microphone in hand, the opportunity to tell a superior or colleague how they feel can certainly intimidate many of your attendees. You’ll need to plan for both types at your meeting. 

Consider setting up a question forum prior to the event, allowing attendees to anonymously submit a question. You could also offer attendees the chance to ask a question midmeeting on their mobile phones or via pen and paper.