Disagreements can destroy working relationships – but it doesn’t have to be that way. If handled constructively disagreements can actually help individuals and teams work more effectively together.
Working through disagreement is an important part of a working group’s process. It typically leads to greater understanding and better quality solutions. The best relationships are built on the ability to manage tensions as much as the desire to support one another.
This is done partly by using Disagreeing and Supporting verbal behaviors in equal amounts. There’s a balance to the interactions. Here, Disagreeing is defined as “Making a clear statement of disagreement with someone else’s statement, idea or approach, or raising objections.” Supporting, on the other hand, is “a clear statement of agreement or support for a person or their statement, opinion, idea or approach.”
Here are four ways to disagree constructively:
1. Sharing your reasons for disagreeing before declaring your position gives people missing information and a context.
This can be used as a basis for exploration and deeper understanding. For example, a colleague suggests that Michael McIntyre is one of the UK’s top three most talented comedians. Rather than label your disagreement you might say: ‘You can rate talent in a number of ways, for example: innovation, imagination or storytelling. I don’t think McIntyre matches up on all those counts, compared with Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais or Al Murray.’ This allows others to understand the basis for your position and a more fruitful discussion can follow.
2. Testing Understanding.
This seeks to test an assumption or check out whether a previous contribution has been understood. For example, Manager One says: ‘Nick has been a consistently high performer across all aspects of his work.’ Rather than directly disagree, Manager Two might say: ‘High across all three categories – core work, projects and safety?’. His questioning invites all those present to reflect and consider the answer. It drives up the level of clarity, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
3. Giving Feelings.
This is an expression of how you feel about what’s happening in any given interaction. For example, ‘I’m feeling uncomfortable that we’re focusing on revenue and not safety as well.’ (versus ‘I disagree with your idea’.)
4. Defined as ‘Extending or developing a proposal made by another person’
Building is uncommon because it requires us to listen to what’s being said. It also demands that we let go of our own sense of ‘rightness’.
If you disagree with an idea, for example, you can use Building to shape the suggestion in a slightly different direction, as in this example:
Jackie: Can we focus the conference on breaking down silos?
Malcolm: We could have representatives of each department in every break-out session as a way of addressing that in a practical way, which would allow us to widen the theme.
Of the four alternatives to Disagreeing, Building is the most skilful and the one likely to have the most positive impact within the workplace.
By using the behaviours above you can help ensure that any disagreements are constructive – and not destructive.