Do you find yourself not wanting to be involved in a disagreement? Maybe you should think again!
Disagreements are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean they have to be destructive. We often learn how to navigate conflict by actually having one. In fact, we spend almost 2.1 hours of our working week resolving disagreements. (1) This, as we all know, can be unpleasant. We’re here to show you that disagreements don’t have to be uncomfortable.
Productive disagreements are so important because they can be a catalyst for our growth. When we engage in respectful debates, share diverse viewpoints, and challenge established norms, we are exploring new ideas and perspectives that might otherwise remain hidden to us. Through these constructive dialogues, weaknesses in individual opinions can be identified and rectified, while strengths are supported and confirmed.
This process encourages critical thinking, fosters creative problem-solving, and fosters an environment where collaboration and open-mindedness thrive. Ultimately, it’s through these interactions that societies, organisations, and individuals evolve, ensuring progress while respecting opinions that are different from our own.
So, what route do our disagreement conversations need to take to ensure they are productive? How do we use these conversations to grow and better ourselves?
Active Listening: We need to begin by fully understanding the other person’s viewpoint. This looks like:
- Listening attentively
- Asking clarifying questions and
- Acknowledge their perspective.
This demonstrates respect for their opinions and shows that you’re genuinely interested in understanding their point of view. It’s also an important skill, especially when our mind wanders 50% of the time, as research suggests. (2)
While you are listening, you are also seeking to find common ground. Acknowledging commonalities helps create a positive atmosphere and establishes a foundation for the conversation. Keep your emotions in check and maintain a calm and respectful demeanour throughout the conversation.
Choose Your Words Carefully: The use of specific words in sensitive situations can trigger automatic, and unexpected responses in the other person, which hinders productive dialogue. (3) When expressing an alternate view (your disagreement), use respectful language and avoid sounding confrontational. Frame your points in a way that focuses on the ideas rather than attacking the person.
For example, “I see where you’re coming from, and I have a slightly different perspective on this.” Using “I” statements will emphasise your personal viewpoint, rather than making it seem like an absolute truth by saying alternatively, “this is how it is.”
Provide Evidence or Examples: Your words are not gospel, but they do need to have weight. You should back up your perspective with facts, data or examples which support your viewpoint. Providing examples demonstrates that you’re not simply disagreeing for the sake of it, but rather that you have a valid response about the issue.
While you’re supporting your position, you also need to refer to their viewpoint as a resource. It’s important that you respect their opinion by acknowledging its validity. The best way to do this is to ask questions. For instance, “I can really see where you’re coming from with this, and I agree with this part – but could you clarify this for me?”
Be Receptive: Encourage further discussion by asking open-ended questions that prompt the other person to explain their viewpoint in more detail. Actively engaging in the conversation helps to uncover potential misunderstandings and allows you to address them constructively.
Once you’re clear on their position, you can begin to offer an alternative solution or perspective that bridges the gap between your viewpoints. This showcases your willingness to find common ground and move toward a solution. Being flexible and respectful to the other person, this can ultimately lead to progress.
Focus on the Issue, Not the Person: Keep the conversation centred on the topic at hand and avoid making personal attacks. Remember that the goal is to find the best solution, not to win an argument. Conflict doesn’t always need to be resolved in an argumentative or divisive way.
Everybody wants to feel heard. Before finishing the conversation, summarise the key points to ensure both parties are on the same page. This also gives you an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings. Regardless of the outcome, express gratitude for the opportunity to have the discussion. This leaves a positive impression and sets the tone for future interactions.
Mastering the art of productive disagreement is an invaluable skill. Disagreements are a natural part of life, but they don’t have to be destructive or uncomfortable. Productive disagreements are valuable because they fuel our growth, innovation, and understanding.
By engaging in respectful debates, we uncover new ideas, strengthen individual views, and foster critical thinking. These interactions drive progress and respect for diverse opinions.
- Baruffati, A.A. (2023) Workplace conflict statistics 2023: Costs & Outcomes. Available at: https://blog.gitnux.com/workplace-conflict-statistics/#:~:text=Globally%2C%20the%20average%20time%20employees,their%20time)%20solving%20work%20conflicts. (Accessed: 04 September 2023).
- A wandering mind is an unhappy mind | science. Available at: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1192439 (Accessed: 04 September 2023).
- Pfeiffer, J.W. (1998) ‘Conditions That Hinder Effective Communication’, The Pfeiffer Library Volume 6, 2nd Edition. [Preprint]. Available at: https://home.snu.edu/~jsmith/library/body/v06.pdf (Accessed: 04 September 2023).