It's inevitable - at some point disagreements are going to come up in the workplace. Power struggles, political plays, sectionalism, siloism – the list goes on regarding sources of organizational conflict. As we all know, disagreements can get heated quickly and it can be difficult to put aside our opinions and biases in order to handle the situation diplomatically. Powerfully motivated people often have powerful egos and when conflicts arise, teamwork can be compromised. Positive collaboration is a product of the culture created in the organization and needs to be built and rebuilt all the time. It doesn’t have to be a "winner takes all" and the losers are vanquished in a battle of wills and egos. There are several tried and true methods to "disagree agreeably" with colleagues and get the issues out on the table, but still preserve the teamwork. Read on to learn how to navigate a disagreement in an empathetic manner while presenting your point of view.
1. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don't immediately jump to conclusions even if you disagree with someone. Hear them out, you may have more in common than you initially thought. We are not perfect, we don’t have all of the possible information or all of the possible angles to view an issue. Instead of concentrating on defending what we think, we should start with an open mind that there are many paths to the mountain top.
2. Listen to learn and understand. Be an engaged listener, make sure you are listening on an empathetic level instead of just pretending to listen. By gathering all the facts about the other person's point of view, you will be able to deliver your counterpoint in a diplomatic manner. We are often notorious interrupters, jumping in finishing other’s sentences, or just talking over the top of them to thrust our opinion forward. We have trouble maintaining our listening capability when our brain is awash with what we want to say. Our own internal conversation is all encompassing, roaring and it is effectively drowning out the points being made by the other person.
3. Use a cushion. Acknowledge the other person's point of view and relate to their emotions through empathetic listening. Use cushion statements such as "I hear what you're saying and what you're saying is important" or "I understand your point of view" to demonstrate that you understand and care about their feelings. It is important to wait until they have finished speaking before we respond. This might feel absolutely painful and excruciating but do it! Having exercised some patience, now we bring in the cushion, which is a great little interregnum to allow us some thinking time before we go into our response. Our immediate first response is usually not our most considered or best response. It can often be an emotional response as well. Cushion, then respond – the results are enormously different.
4. Never use "but" or "however." No matter how much you empathize with someone, if you follow up your cushion statement with words like "but" or "however," it will negate everything prior. You lose credibility and the person you're disagreeing with is unlikely to take your thoughts seriously from this point on. We are all trained like hawks to watch for body language guiding us as to whether they agree with what we are saying. So we have to make sure we are not giving off a negative vibe without even being aware of it. We are also trained to listen for key words that tell us whether we have an argument on our hands or not and so "but" etc., set off alarms in our heads. Instead of words that contradict your original statement, use words like "and" or insert a pause instead.
5. State your opinion with evidence. Opinions are easy to refute, but facts are difficult to argue with. By backing up your point of view with evidence, you come across as more credible and can gain valuable leverage in a disagreement. By utilizing evidence, you may even be able to bring someone over to your line of thinking. It is also a smart move to bring in the facts in a subtle way. Rather than using facts as a mallet to belt them with, offer some consideration such as "I may not have all the facts but I was aware that this….was the case, how does that correspond with your experience?" Always be aware too that people don’t like to lose face, be embarrassed, be humiliated or to feel slighted. Ramming facts down their throat may mean you are correct and may make you feel good, but you create an enemy for life nevertheless, if the message is delivered in the wrong way.