When we interact and work with other people, we will eventually disagree with each other. Sometimes, the disagreement will be over minor issues where we can easily ignore the disagreement. Sometimes, however, we will disagree quite strongly about an issue that is vitally important to both of us. It might be about what course of action to take to turn around the company, which candidate to back in an election, a difference of faith perspectives, or some other issue that evokes strong emotion. When these issues arise, you might reach an impasse where you simply cannot reach agreement and you cannot just “let it go.”
When that happens, how do you resolve the conflict?
Remember that in the context of this blog, conflict resolution is about finding a way to work together to solve a problem affecting the organization. It is not about agreeing on every issue. So, we can resolve a conflict in the sense that we continue to work together productively without reaching complete agreement. With that context in mind, you can preserve the relationship and continue working together despite the differences by learning to disagree without being disagreeable. Put another way, we can learn to agree to disagree on certain things.
Easy to say. Not always easy to do.
Issues that are personally important usually produce an emotional response. Once we become emotional about an issue, we tend towards behaviors that escalate the conflict rather than resolve it. We attack the other person's character or intelligence. We dismiss their perspective as irrational or stupid. In short, we make it about their personhood. We become disagreeable.
Learning to disagree without becoming disagreeable takes work. It takes effort. It takes focus. It is also worth it.
When we become disagreeable, we usually trigger a similar response in the other person so that we move towards separation and paralysis instead of towards action and resolution. When we can agree to disagree, we can set the disagreement aside in the interest of continuing to work together. We don't forget the issue. We just don't let it get in the way of solving the organizational problem at hand.
Are there times when you cannot continue to work together because of a disagreement? Yes. If you have to violate your core principles or ethical standards to move forward with the other person, you should stand firm or consider ending the relationship. Sometimes we all reach this conclusion. I'm just encouraging you not to reach that conclusion too quickly or rashly. Be careful that you don't take a stand on “principle” when you simply disagree about an approach, style, or perspective.
If you want to resolve team and organizational conflicts so that you can solve the business problem, learn to disagree without being disagreeable.