The Leadership Gift Conflict Rule No. 1: Disagree More and Better

Even highly skilled and trained people can be downright lousy at disagreeing, and this is the first part in a series of five posts on how to better deal with conflict.

I call my approach to conflict “positive politics,” and that means attending to individual interests and  honoring others (even those who threaten or oppose you).

Let’s start by considering how you can represent your interests more powerfully and, at the same time, honor your relationships with others by being more truthful.

Professor Jerry Harvey* claims that people in organizations need less training in conflict management and more permission to disagree.

Professor Harvey says that if we were representing ourselves more accurately and telling our whole truth, then we’d actually be disagreeing more frequently, thus eliminating much larger conflicts.

Think about it: oftentimes, the reason we get into such conflicts with each other is precisely because we are so nice.

We say “Sure!” to other people’s proposals without thinking, or we remain silent instead of weighing in — thus granting our consent by abstaining. We “go along to get along” so as to “not rock the boat.”

When we are nice at the expense of telling the truth, we often resent that we have done so. We then express our resentment (about our own choices!) by blaming the very party to whom we were attempting to be nice!

The Leadership Gift is definitely not about being nice. So stop it if it isn’t serving you or your relationships.

Here are some strategies for disagreeing:

View disagreement as enlightening rather than battling.
Many of us view expressing differences as bad or wrong. Instead, think of your expression of disagreement simply as adding another point of view. How do you do that? Easy. Whenever you are tempted to say “but,” instead insert “and” as in, “I hear you claim the emperor has new clothes, and, I don’t see them.”

Learn to say “I disagree” without invalidating others.
When you disagree (or say “Yes, and…”), do it in a way that supports others. Don’t attack or make others wrong. Allow people to draw their own conclusions about good and bad, or right and wrong.

Consistently check in to assess your interests.
Especially if you find yourself feeling resentful or taken advantage of, practice taking time to think through the implications of going along with a seemingly innocuous proposal.
Always ask yourself, “Will I end up appreciating this or regretting it?”

Go along to get along only when you are freely choosing it.
It’s okay to be gracious and nice — to let someone have their own way — when you choose to. Only do so when your consent is a gift you truly want to give and you know you won’t hold onto any residue that you will resent.

Take responsibility for resolving your disagreement.
Standing up for your interests more frequently and in smaller ways carries a price. That price is the responsibility to move yourself, the group or relationship forward. That suggests that you put the differences to work in coming up with a creative solution for how everyone’s interests can be met.

* See Harvey’s two books, “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management,” and “Every Time I’m Stabbed in the Back My Finger Prints Are Found on the Knife and Other Meditations on Management.”

Get Started With This 5-Minute Stretch

When was the last time you resented an agreement you made (or silently consented to) without thinking it through?

What might you have done differently?

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Posted in Leadership on 04/03/2013 08:04 am
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