Do you ever wish we could all agree on everything? Wouldn’t that stop all the arguing and fighting? Maybe, but it would also stop a lot of progress and prevent important changes from being made. While disagreement can be uncomfortable, it can also be beneficial if it’s handled the right way. Here are some keys to making it work for everyone involved.
Clarify the Issue – I’ve seen couples, work teams, business partners and family members get embroiled in arguments that escalate into hostility, only to find out they’re not even fighting for the same reason. Begin your discussion by making sure you all have the opportunity to say what your concerns are and what you think the “win” will be once the conversation is over.
Respect – No conversation works well if one or more individuals speaks or behaves in a disrespectful manner. It’s critical to acknowledge that everyone has a legitimate right to their own opinion and that having differences of opinion do not change the value each person brings to the table. Avoid any language that criticizes, belittles or minimizes another person.
Compromise – It’s critical that people entering a dialogue about a topic of disagreement accept the possibility that they will need to give something up for the sake of resolving the issue. Being too stubborn or too set on having your own way will be a roadblock to agreement.
Understanding – When there is a disagreement, it’s important to understand why someone has formed the opinion they have. Very often you’ll find that their “unreasonable” feelings came from a life experience or a strong mental filter that they’ve developed over time. The way they feel or respond may make perfect sense when you see the issue through their eyes.
Honesty – If you don’t share your real feelings or opinions, if you leave out important facts or if you embellish the truth in order to argue your side, you may never reach a genuine agreement. If you say you agree and just “go along” with what someone says, you risk building a stone wall of resentment that will affect your future communications. Your thoughts and feelings should be expressed honestly so others in the conversation can address them more fully.
Solution-focused – In some situations, a disagreement cannot be fully resolved to a point where every party completely agrees with everyone else. It’s okay to agree to disagree, but the conversation needs to be steering in the direction of a consensus. Clarify, “What are we trying to accomplish?” It will involve compromise and will require people to set aside their pride at times, but the goal should always be to find a reasonable solution.
Best for everyone – The solution to a disagreement should be a win-win situation. Even if each person has to give up something they wanted, it’s worth the effort to be sure each person is heard, respected and considered in the outcome.
Handled appropriately, disagreement can lead to better understanding between people, progress toward a goal, and improved communication skills. Just keep these principles in mind the next time you find yourself in a disagreement.
Live, Work and Relate Well!
Dr. Linaman is a psychologist and executive coach providing counseling and professional development services to individuals, couples, work teams and organizations.