How to use disagreement to your advantage in the workplace

July 4, 2017 Caitlin Leishman

While disagreement is often viewed as a negative, there are times when constructive disagreement can be used to build confidence and innovation within the workplace. When done well, disagreeing fosters in depth discussion, and encourages honest and unvarnished opinion. Of course, if you find you’re constantly butting heads with your teammates you may need to rethink your approach, but occasionally giving people the opportunity to contradict the status quo can have definite benefits.  Here are some ways to turn conflict into positive change:

1.Understand the intentions of others

Perspectives are developed in vastly different ways, and even if they’re different from your own you shouldn’t discount them. To work constructively, team members must genuinely listen to each other and provide honest feedback.


2.Emphasize common goals

Common goals bring a team together when a discussion is going off-track. Everyone likes their own ideas, but it’s important to consider what idea best serves the organization or the goal at hand. By focusing on what’s beneficial for the company, you ensure that discussion is working towards achieving a common goal instead of winning an argument.


3.Focus on the facts

By focusing on current, factual data instead of opinion, it is more likely that the best ideas will be heard. If subjective issues like moral or team dynamics are to be brought up, it is best to frame them within how it impacts the business and goals.


4.Remember there’s more than one ‘right’ answer

Explore several possible courses of action to a problem. Although one person should be leading the meeting, it is best to not allow this person to dominate the discussion. Everyone should be able to voice their ideas in order to drive collaboration.


5.Help others think outside the box

Ask open-ended questions such as ‘What if?’ to help people think bigger and avoid getting stuck in a narrow problem space. Also focus on finding common ground with your teammates and building on those points. It may not always create perfect agreement, but it will allow for deeper discussion and understanding.


6.Don’t take disagreement personally

Make sure discussion allows everyone to leave the meeting feeling like they’ve been heard and respected regardless of the outcome. Even if your idea wasn’t chosen, focus on the fact that you were part of a constructive discussion, and are helping to achieve organizational goals.

Do you have issues around managing disagreement within your organization? Use the behavioral indicators from the competency “Managing Conflicts” to guide development discussions with your employees to work on these skills. 

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