People think it’s constructive! Now here’s someone who… disagrees:
“’Agree to disagree’ is passive aggressive,” says Matt Gartland, cofounder of SPI Media, the parent company of the popular Smart Passive Income. “It’s maybe a bit like, ‘I’m secretly rooting for you to fail so I can say, ‘I told you so.’ And ultimately, that is not a health construct to communicate with, and to navigate a relationship, especially one of such consequences.”
That last part is important: He’s talking about work relationships, where people’s ability to get along can literally impact the health of a company.
At a party, sure, you can agree to disagree on whether it’s pronounced “gif” or “jif.” (It’s gif with a hard g; don’t get me started.) But at work? We need a better way. We can’t just agree to disagree — to essentially tell someone, “You’re wrong, I don’t support your idea, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
So what’s this other, better way?
You disagree and commit.
“Disagree and commit” means this: While a decision is being made, everyone involved is empowered to disagree and debate. But once a decision is made, everyone must support it.
Why is this better? For three reasons, as I see it:
It avoids what’s called “the consensus trap” — where nobody agrees on something, and therefore nothing gets done.
It focuses debate where it’s most useful, which is at the beginning of the process — not after a decision is made.
It creates a stronger team. People feel heard. Decisions are born from debate. And (in theory, at least) nobody sits around waiting for someone else’s idea to fail.
And here’s a fourth reason from Jeff Bezos, who wrote about it in his 2016 letter to shareholders. The way Bezos sees it, “disagree and commit” is also a great leadership tactic — because it gives him a way to trust and empower his team, even if he doesn’t see things their way. Here’s what he wrote:
Use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.
Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!
Bezos, by the way, is often credited with coming up with “disagree and commit” — but that’s not true. The phrase has been around since the 1980s, with various champions along the way.
Once you see this idea the first time, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Netflix describes a version of it in its company culture statement: “You debate ideas openly, and help implement whatever decision is made even when you disagree.” Gitlab does the same: “Everything can be questioned but as long as a decision is in place we expect people to commit to executing it, which is a common principle.”
I first heard the phrase from Matt Gartland of SPI Media, who I quoted above. I was interviewing him and cofounder Pat Flynn about how they keep their cofounder relationship strong, and they gave a lot of credit to “disagree and commit.” Pat said he was once an “agree to disagree” guy, and found this new concept “revolutionary.”
Why? To them, the whole thing is about remembering stakes. “We have nine employees and their families to think about,” Gartland says. They can’t let disagreements fester. Whatever the team decides, everyone must commit to its success. “If we screw this up and experience founder fallout, then this just goes kaboom,” he says.
No matter the small disagreements, they have no disagreement on what matters most.
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