Disagreements are a positive, normal, and necessary part of building a great relationship or a team. Therefore, as an effective leader with followers, learning how to constructively manage disagreements is critical to both your success as a leader, as well as the success of your team.
A CEO I worked with was challenged by a lack of teamwork at the executive level of the organization, and spent a lot of his time trying to resolve disagreements between team members. In his words, “Each team member produces great results and is really strong in their own area of expertise. It’s like having a garage full of Ferrari’s; they are all incredibly high performers and produce strong results quickly, but they require a full-time mechanic to keep all the parts working together.” Unfortunately, in this case, the full-time mechanic for this team of Ferrari’s was the CEO.
Disagreements are not the same as conflicts. When disagreements are not handled in a constructive manner, however, they can quickly escalate to become conflicts. Conflicts result when either one or both parties involved feel there is a threat to their wellbeing. Conflicts can trigger strong emotions, and a disagreement that has escalated to the point of a conflict undermines your ability to lead effectively. I’ve written more on the topic of conflict resolution here.
When disagreements are handled constructively, they provide a great opportunity for building an even stronger team, and stronger relationships among the team members. Good business decisions are the result of employees respecting each other’s opinions, and having the ability to have a constructive dialogue where each team member has the opportunity to learn from each other.
The following 8 tips will help you, as a leader and team member, create an even stronger environment where constructive disagreements lead to better decisions, and are a vibrant and valued part of your culture.
Clarify the vision and goals. Ensure that you are clear on the vision and goals for the project prior to disagreeing with someone about what they are saying or the solution they are proposing.
Don’t dwell on the past. When a disagreement arises, some people tend to focus on what might have happened in the past relationship versus resolving the current difference being discussed. Be willing to forgive (or forget) in order to stay focused on the present disagreement and its resolution.
Listen for understanding. We all have different personal experiences and expectations. Let your counterpart speak first. Make sure you are actively listening for not only content, but also feeling. Truly listen with the goal of understanding what your counterpart is communicating as well as their point of reference.
Ensure understanding by asking questions. Before you jump in with your beliefs, ask your counterpart a couple of questions to ensure you understand their point of view. Giving a recommendation to resolve the disagreement without a true understanding of their point of view is leadership malpractice. Asking questions is also a great way to keep things in check when you feel your emotions rising. You are almost always better off asking a question instead of outright informing someone they’re wrong.
Keep your goals solution-oriented. When egos take over in an argument, both parties can quickly develop a pressing need to be right. When you’re convinced that you are right, you are also indirectly saying that you are smarter than your counterpart or the team. That’s a dangerous habit to get in to, as it often results in arrogant leadership. When you change your goal from “being right” to “finding a solution,” you are aware of, and open to, the fact that there may be multiple solutions that could work.
Be motivated to learn. If two people had identical thoughts and opinions, there would be no need for the second person to be involved in decision-making in the first place. Different perspectives and thought processes are excellent learning opportunities for all parties involved, and drive innovation and forward-thinking within your organization. Take advantage of the learning opportunity, and use it to make an even better and well-informed decision.
Pick your battles wisely. Some disagreements are simply not worth the time it takes to disagree, nor the fallout that may result. If the situation allows you to let it go, then do so. Save your time and energy, and end the conversation with, “Though I’m not sure I agree with your perspective, I feel that I now have a better understanding of why you feel the way you do. On this particular point, I think it’s ok to agree to disagree. Thanks for talking it over with me.”
Thank them. Confident and talented employees have the courage to speak up and offer the feedback and ideas that leaders need to make the best possible decisions. These are the exact employees you want on your team; if people have the guts to disagree with you, they are helping you become a better leader. Strong leaders encourage their team members to challenge them. Thank the people who are willing to speak up and offer an alternative idea or opinion.
Don’t shy away from disagreements. When lead correctly, a diversity of opinion results in valuable solutions to problems that may otherwise not have come to light.
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