Disagreeing Well

disagree well

In my work, I often am asked to facilitate conversations between people who disagree or are finding it hard to get on. This can have a negative impact on the wider team and organisation and reacting quickly, getting the people together helps reduce this.

These days, it has become more difficult than ever to disagree with someone. Many fear causing offence and worry about cancel culture. I read a lot about this subject and here are some of my thoughts on disagreement.

It’s too easy to react with emotion when we disagree with someone.

And we know that’s not helpful.

What’s more, we react to each person differently.  One person can say something controversial and get away with it.  Another will wind you up. Its’s about the emotional narrative we have around that person.  How many of us find family members can say something and push all the buttons whilst a friend might say the same and seem completely acceptable!

We all have buttons that get pushed. That’s our own story.  It’s got nothing to do with the person who’s managing to push them.

“Your co worker didn’t create the button, they’re just pushing it”.

I love that quote.

Reacting with emotion means getting angry, upset, impatient, wound up, defensive. This is not a good place to start when you disagree with someone. They’re going to sense this and they’re likely to shut down and stop talking or get emotional themselves and more entrenched or both.  William Ury, great mediator/negotiator I heard recently said “take time to go to the balcony”.  This means taking a big step back and observing.  Leaving behind emotion or any narrative you have around this person (which generally we create from assumptions and beliefs not facts). This gives you a chance to cool down and get a different, less involved perspective. This always works with emails – and it works with face to face interactions too.

Pay attention to the words

Next remember to listen to what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. Too often we react to the person not the words and dismiss them before truly considering what they’ve got to say. Most people don’t go out of their way to wind you up, so there might be something worth listening to!

Take another step back and ask yourself, what if I could learn something from this? Acting graciously and with curiosity can transform the interaction. They feel heard. They’re more likely to hear you.

It takes two to tango. It’s a sad fact but none of us are perfect.  There may be something you can change on your side that will make the relationship better. Or bearable.

You don’t have to agree with people.  We all have the right to disagree.  But we can do it through listening, not taking it personally and giving them the chance to be heard.

Help them feel heard and validated

By treating them with respect, asking questions and listening to their side, they are less likely to feel cornered and defensive.  We as human beings don’t like to back down when cornered or feeling threatened.  If we help them feel dignified and validated, there is a higher chance they will change their stance. And the same goes for you. Developing a narrative that says I thought this to begin with, but have learned some more about it and now I think this, gives you more control and choice, rather than feeling you had no control or choice and feel humiliated for backing down.

In short it all comes down to perspective – taking a step back to minimise the emotional reaction and listening to the other. As a coach and facilitator, I spend a lot of my time listening which provides space for people to think more deeply and often come up with new ideas and reflections without fear of judgment. They then are more open to listening themselves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on disagreeing well.