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In a recent blog on enhancing project success, I talked about the need for humans to talk with each other more, and more effectively. And part of that talking involves disagreements. Lots of them involve significant ideas. In the business world, we often spend our days solving hard problems. And if we are ever going to make progress, we need to learn how to disagree better.

In the recent Governor’s Conference meeting in Washington, DC, governors met to hear programs on how to disagree better. One of the programs was a discussion by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett on how to disagree. Participants heard stories about how the Justices work together, including hours in face-to-face substantive dialogue and lunches four days a week. They know each other well, and despite news reports to the contrary, seem to like each other.

One of the suggestions that came out of the conference was to spend more time in face-to-face conversations with people with whom we disagree. The organizer, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, set up video recording stations on the last day of the conference. He encouraged participants to grab a partner with an opposing perspective and make a video discussing something substantive. His thinking was that we have much more in common than we think, and we need to make sure that Americans know that. We all want safe neighborhoods, homes we can afford, good food to eat, and friends.

Yet we seem to live in a world that thrives on negativity and drives wedges between us. It sells. But the business world doesn’t need to be a part of that. It doesn’t make us better people and unless you are selling news, it doesn’t make you money. How can we disagree better – especially in our office and home environments? Here are eight ideas.

1. Prefer Face-to-Face Communication

Talk – preferably face-to-face. Don’t text or email for important conversations. While I absolutely LOVE text and email, it is not a place for real dialogue, or solving problems. It’s for sending important communications, quick questions, or check-ins.

People will say things in emails or texts that they won’t say face-to-face. And facial expressions (and body language) speak volumes about how people feel or what they really think about your idea or thought. Plus, people need to be present in the discussions. If the conversations are virtual, it is too easy to take the time to fold laundry or catch up on some emails. When you are not present, you can’t be part of the solution.

Use face-to-face communication for important conversations. When you're not present, you can't be part of the solution. Check out these 8 ways to disagree better: #communication #disagree #projectmanagement Click To Tweet

2. Focus on Core Issues

Identify and stay focused on the core issues of disagreement. Don’t let the peripheral matters get in the way of talking. If you are in a meeting with a whiteboard, you can put peripheral matters in a parking lot, so to speak. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They just aren’t the highest priority. Find common ground – particularly around the areas of conflict. Seek win-win solutions. When you are compromising no one gets everything they want.

3. Understand Different Perspectives

When you are looking at business problems, step back and put yourself in different shoes. What does the problem look like from an executive’s perspective, a user’s perspective, or the salesperson’s perspective? Look at where the real disagreements are and the possible solutions.

Consider how the different perspectives impact the need to work together. Is this a real debate about how to execute a specific task, or a personality conflict that should be overlooked? Not everyone on a team needs to be close friends. Focus on the goal of the project and let immaterial matters go. Again, look for win-win solutions that will move your project along.

Understanding different perspectives is key to better disagreement. Put yourself in others' shoes to see the bigger picture. Find win-win solutions and move projects forward: #empathy #teamwork #smartprojex Click To Tweet

4. Build Strong Team Relationships

Get to know your team well. The better you know your team the easier it is to navigate challenges and disagree better. When a project manager knows their teammates, they know, for example, when someone ALWAYS underestimates, and can plan accordingly. If they know one of their teammates has a child with a terminal disease, they can assign tasks with non-critical deadlines. When you take the time to get to know everyone on your team, it benefits everyone.

5. Embrace Empathy and Open-Mindedness

Remember that the only person in the room that you can change is the one in the mirror.

Bring empathy, humility, and an open mind to the conversation. Use your ears twice as much as your mouth. Come prepared for the planned discussions. Understand whether the other people at the table are acting out of fear or love. When you see someone acting in fear, try to understand their fear as real.

6. Encourage the Quiet Voices

In the discussions, know the difference between people who are good listeners and those who are problem solvers. Not everyone can do both well. If someone is a great listener pay attention to whether they are sharing their ideas and ask for their ideas if they are quiet. The same is true for introverts who may be quiet in meetings.

7. Analyze Organizational Incentives

Are you incentivizing people to solve problems effectively or erecting stumbling blocks unnecessarily?  Look at how you compensate your people. Is your incentive structure amplifying the voices of the troublemakers or the collaborators? I particularly see this in professional partnerships where rainmakers can often be paid quite handsomely and have no interest in collaboration. I won’t suggest a way to solve the conflict between highly paid rainmakers and those that often do most of the work of holding the business together. But I would just suggest that you understand when your compensation plan is impeding collaborative efforts.

8. Insist on a Respectful Organization

This is critical. We need to build respectful organizations. Even when people don’t like each other or disagree vehemently about critical matters, we can still insist that people act with respect. Sadly, a lack of respect is increasingly a problem, both in business and personal matters. And this is not okay. We are all humans and don’t deserve to be treated poorly. And I’m afraid that the increasing use of technology is worsening the situation. As I said earlier, we often say things online that we would never say to someone’s face. There are good ways to disagree better and we all need to make this a priority.

If you are looking for more ideas, why don’t you read my book, Herding Smart Cats?

Insist on a respectful organization where disagreements are handled with dignity and respect. Treat others as you would like to be treated, whether in business or personal matters. Discover ways to foster respect: #respect… Click To Tweet