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"I disagree…" should be celebrated, not stricken

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 10-27-10

In today’s politically correct world, conflict is avoided seemingly at all costs. But without active conflict management, good decisions cannot be made. I propose we need more tolerance rather than more sensitivity.

As a sign of how overly far sensitivity has gone, we were once told not to use the phrase “bull in a china shop” because it would be offensive to Chinese. Huh? If you can make sense of that one, please let me know.

bull.jpg

The simple phrase of “I disagree” has seemed to have taken on the meaning of negativity, of bad behavior, and of disrespect. I believe few things demonstrate respect more than the willingness to say “I disagree” and then proceed with an adult discussion.

This is especially important when teams are trying to collaborate. Collaboration, brainstorming, and creativity depend upon teams living within the conflict and exploring it fully.

In Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni demonstrates the importance of conflict in meetings. You cannot resolve differences without surfacing and dealing with conflict. And you cannot make decisions without disagreements and differences of opinion.

I am not saying that you need to be blunt, disagreeable (different than saying “I disagree”), or nasty. We can be polite, civil, and demonstrate respect while saying “I disagree”. Perhaps we’ve been watching too much politics where “I disagree” turns into “that guy is evil and will destroy everything you hold dear.”

What can you do?

  1. When you disagree, say so. Then explain why.
  2. When others disagree, react with curiosity, not scorn.
  3. Invite exploration into disagreement.

How does your organization handle conflict? Does it invite it, or discourage it? Is it sensitive, or can it have adult conversations?

Comments

  • Managing conflict is never easy, especially if from an early age you are ‘socially engineered’ to avoid it, combine this with the other aspect called ‘absoluteness’ and now we have the current political polarization.

    Disagreeing with a purpose is meaningful, disagreeing to be obstinate…now that is a personality trait that rarely gets one very far. Dealing with conflict or disagreements at work is rarely a positive, unless the person who wishes to overcome these approaches with a bit of humility and asks the questions and probes for understanding.

    Corporate cultures fascinate me…how can one companies culture be so completely different then another?…how can several cultures exist within one company? Current state for me is each part, piece or division of the the company I work for now has a different culture. Overall, we are a very conflict adverse. I would almost characterize it as passive aggressive. Some pockets deal with conflict well, luckily this is a group I work in. A few weeks back, I publicly disagreed with an approach that was proposed. One could sense the emotions being raised, knowing full well this could be a divisive issue i did my homework. When asked why, I plainly put out my concerns in the form of an A3, with the beginning of the problem break down. This helped not only myself, it also helped the leadership understand where I was coming from and affirmed them that I wanted to go to the same spot they did, just a different route. In this way I proved to myself I could disagree with my leadership, share my concerns and hear all that needed to be said to either course correct me or come to a mutual path.

    Jamie, you ask some pretty interesting questions in your blog. I really appreciate you making me think!
    JWDT

    Justin Tomac October 27, 2010 at 9:56 am
  • Managing conflict is never easy, especially if from an early age you are ‘socially engineered’ to avoid it, combine this with the other aspect called ‘absoluteness’ and now we have the current political polarization.

    Disagreeing with a purpose is meaningful, disagreeing to be obstinate…now that is a personality trait that rarely gets one very far. Dealing with conflict or disagreements at work is rarely a positive, unless the person who wishes to overcome these approaches with a bit of humility and asks the questions and probes for understanding.

    Corporate cultures fascinate me…how can one companies culture be so completely different then another?…how can several cultures exist within one company? Current state for me is each part, piece or division of the the company I work for now has a different culture. Overall, we are a very conflict adverse. I would almost characterize it as passive aggressive. Some pockets deal with conflict well, luckily this is a group I work in. A few weeks back, I publicly disagreed with an approach that was proposed. One could sense the emotions being raised, knowing full well this could be a divisive issue i did my homework. When asked why, I plainly put out my concerns in the form of an A3, with the beginning of the problem break down. This helped not only myself, it also helped the leadership understand where I was coming from and affirmed them that I wanted to go to the same spot they did, just a different route. In this way I proved to myself I could disagree with my leadership, share my concerns and hear all that needed to be said to either course correct me or come to a mutual path.

    Jamie, you ask some pretty interesting questions in your blog. I really appreciate you making me think!
    JWDT

    Justin Tomac October 27, 2010 at 9:56 am
  • Managing conflict is never easy, especially if from an early age you are ‘socially engineered’ to avoid it, combine this with the other aspect called ‘absoluteness’ and now we have the current political polarization.

    Disagreeing with a purpose is meaningful, disagreeing to be obstinate…now that is a personality trait that rarely gets one very far. Dealing with conflict or disagreements at work is rarely a positive, unless the person who wishes to overcome these approaches with a bit of humility and asks the questions and probes for understanding.

    Corporate cultures fascinate me…how can one companies culture be so completely different then another?…how can several cultures exist within one company? Current state for me is each part, piece or division of the the company I work for now has a different culture. Overall, we are a very conflict adverse. I would almost characterize it as passive aggressive. Some pockets deal with conflict well, luckily this is a group I work in. A few weeks back, I publicly disagreed with an approach that was proposed. One could sense the emotions being raised, knowing full well this could be a divisive issue i did my homework. When asked why, I plainly put out my concerns in the form of an A3, with the beginning of the problem break down. This helped not only myself, it also helped the leadership understand where I was coming from and affirmed them that I wanted to go to the same spot they did, just a different route. In this way I proved to myself I could disagree with my leadership, share my concerns and hear all that needed to be said to either course correct me or come to a mutual path.

    Jamie, you ask some pretty interesting questions in your blog. I really appreciate you making me think!
    JWDT

    Justin Tomac October 27, 2010 at 9:56 am
  • Jamie, I am trying to find some point in your post that I dissagree with.
    I can’t find anything. Great post !!

    Jim Fernandez October 27, 2010 at 10:09 am
  • Jamie, I am trying to find some point in your post that I dissagree with.
    I can’t find anything. Great post !!

    Jim Fernandez October 27, 2010 at 10:09 am
  • Jamie, I am trying to find some point in your post that I dissagree with.
    I can’t find anything. Great post !!

    Jim Fernandez October 27, 2010 at 10:09 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view, but rather to first vilify their point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:46 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view, but rather to first vilify their point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:46 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view, but rather to first vilify their point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:46 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Great observation Jamie. This brings to mind the related quote/philosophy of: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No doubt today’s society is unbalanced in terms of efforts to understand another’s point of view.

    Often this concept is misunderstood as ‘everyone will be happy if you just give in to the other’. Not so. The important point is the SEQUENCE of seeking understanding FIRST. A respectful approach.

    The best way to put forth one’s own viewpoint is to best understand other’s viewpoints first thus creating the maximum potential to identify common ground AND also identify those points on which the parties will continue to differ.

    Once this understanding of common and differing points is achieved by both parties then decisions can be made of how to move forward together, or separately.

    Ken Loskamp October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Justin,

    You make a great point with your example. One way to help people manage disagreement better is to right it down, along with the facts, and the perceptions of facts. Whether A3 or some other means, the discussions moves from person-to-person to person-to-problem. It might be a subtle difference, but an effective one.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Justin,

    You make a great point with your example. One way to help people manage disagreement better is to right it down, along with the facts, and the perceptions of facts. Whether A3 or some other means, the discussions moves from person-to-person to person-to-problem. It might be a subtle difference, but an effective one.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Justin,

    You make a great point with your example. One way to help people manage disagreement better is to right it down, along with the facts, and the perceptions of facts. Whether A3 or some other means, the discussions moves from person-to-person to person-to-problem. It might be a subtle difference, but an effective one.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh October 27, 2010 at 10:48 am
  • Justin, you handled that situation very well. I was part of that group discussion and it went very well because of the A3 format.

    I try to tell people that I work with (especially higher in the management structure) that we shouldn’t always agree. I want them to tell me when they disagree. I may not like it, but I will respect it and I never hold that as ammo against a person later.

    The way I see it, if two people always agree, then there is a problem. We talk about no problem (always agreeing) is a problem, so lets at least have a discussion about being open to disagreeing.

    Matt Wrye October 27, 2010 at 11:28 am
  • Justin, you handled that situation very well. I was part of that group discussion and it went very well because of the A3 format.

    I try to tell people that I work with (especially higher in the management structure) that we shouldn’t always agree. I want them to tell me when they disagree. I may not like it, but I will respect it and I never hold that as ammo against a person later.

    The way I see it, if two people always agree, then there is a problem. We talk about no problem (always agreeing) is a problem, so lets at least have a discussion about being open to disagreeing.

    Matt Wrye October 27, 2010 at 11:28 am
  • Justin, you handled that situation very well. I was part of that group discussion and it went very well because of the A3 format.

    I try to tell people that I work with (especially higher in the management structure) that we shouldn’t always agree. I want them to tell me when they disagree. I may not like it, but I will respect it and I never hold that as ammo against a person later.

    The way I see it, if two people always agree, then there is a problem. We talk about no problem (always agreeing) is a problem, so lets at least have a discussion about being open to disagreeing.

    Matt Wrye October 27, 2010 at 11:28 am
  • I agree with this sentiment so, naturally I find your post wonderful. Of course this is part of the psychology on why people often get upset and any sense of discord. It harms organizations when the culture punishes discussing challenging ideas but often people are happier. And them being happier often takes the day on what will be tolerated and encouraged.

    John Hunter October 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm
  • I agree with this sentiment so, naturally I find your post wonderful. Of course this is part of the psychology on why people often get upset and any sense of discord. It harms organizations when the culture punishes discussing challenging ideas but often people are happier. And them being happier often takes the day on what will be tolerated and encouraged.

    John Hunter October 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm
  • I agree with this sentiment so, naturally I find your post wonderful. Of course this is part of the psychology on why people often get upset and any sense of discord. It harms organizations when the culture punishes discussing challenging ideas but often people are happier. And them being happier often takes the day on what will be tolerated and encouraged.

    John Hunter October 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm