I was reading an article on “office politics.” Basically, the discussion was around maximizing collaboration by hiring “like minded” people. Implicitly, the argument focused on minimizing disagreements and differing points of view.
Frankly, I think that’s terrible advice. Everything we know is the quality of what we do, the time to decision is increased with more diverse groups.
I think several issues are at play. First, I don’t believe we understand how to effectively manage disagreement or conflict with an organization. We tend to take disagreement personally, thinking it’s a judgment on our value as human being, and some people make the mistake of making it personal. A “bad idea,” is heard as “you are a bad person.”
Disagreement can never be about the person. It cannot be about an individual’s value, but rather disagreement is about ideas.
When we disagree about ideas, we don’t know how to productively resolve disagreement. We get locked into positions, our egos get in the way. We don’t listen with open minds, we don’t seek to learn. We don’t ask questions to better understand, instead asking questions with an agenda.
Often, our responses are, “Yes, but…..” when we might make more progress by responding with, “Yes, and…” (We can learn a lot from improv in looking at disagreement.) Sometimes, the resolution can be a compromise; often the best solution is a combination of different ideas (The old MBA term is “synergy.”)
We sometimes disagree because of a misunderstanding. But this is actually sloppiness in our thinking and how we manage disagreement. To disagree, legitimately or with integrity, we must understand well.* This requires us to probe, question. We must respect each other, leaving open the possibility that we may change our positions.
We can only resolve and manage disagreement if we are aligned around a common purpose and values. This provides the underlying context of belief system. Then we must have agreement around the problem we are trying to solve and the goal. Until we do this, we may be talking past each other and will never resolve our disagreements.
Finally, there is a difference between disagreement and being disagreeable. Those who are disagreeable are focused on their own self interest, and are unconcerned with the shared interest of the group.
Disagreement is powerful, as long as we understand what it is and are aligned on how we effectively manage disagreements.
Afterword: * Bret Stephens wrote an outstanding opinion piece, The Dying Art Of Disagreement.
Afterword: While most of this discussion focused on internal disagreements, these principles are even more important in working with our customers.