There are certain words and phrases that can get us on the defensive before we even know what the topic is. One of the big ones is
“No offense, but…”
And related cushions followed by the word but.
Remember that people on tight teams can handle tough talk. It’s okay for you to deliver tough thoughts. It’s why we meet—to search for truth. High performing teams have the trust needed to say tough things.
Sometimes we try to distance ourselves from what we’re about to say with “no offense,” or “I don’t mean to be difficult,” or “just playing devil’s advocate here,” but it’s not necessary. In fact, it puts people’s defenses on high alert, which is the opposite of what you want.
It’s both refreshing and leader-like to own your tough statements.
Try these alternatives.
Instead of “No offense, but…,” try “This might offend some people, yet it needs to be said.”
Instead of “I don’t mean to be difficult, but…,” try “I’m about to be difficult because I think this needs to be asked.”
Instead of “Just playing devil’s advocate here…,” try “Here’s another way of looking at it…”
Pick your own words, but make them your own words; own your contrary opinion civilly, kindly, and firmly. Make it clear that it’s your point of view. Civil disagreement builds trust, gets at the truth, and helps others know who you are. Do this, and make it safe for others to do so as well.