Harnessing the Power of Disagreement:
A Five-Step Process

by Kevin Daley

Determined to explore all avenues for making a technology breakthrough, senior executives are collaborating with spike-haired mavericks whose quirky ideas might be just what's needed. A wide range of people with disparate outlooks and often contradictory ways of working have been brought together in the new organization.

It's a melting pot that continually transforms itself because of ongoing restructuring, internationalization, the development of cross-functional task groups and diversity initiatives. This in turn creates new opportunities for failures in communications.

The new dynamic brings vigor and creativity to the organization but its communications challenges also create mistrust, resentment and clashes between people. Here's a process that can help your organization turn disagreements among employees into opportunities to foster creativity and improve the productivity of collaborative projects.

The process employs many of the communications skills all employees need in today's environment where every business challenge is a communications challenge -- within work units, across them, up and down the line and with supply chain partners. These skills are taught and practiced in Communispond's training curriculum, along with other management skills.

Encourage your employees to approach every conflict by taking these five steps:

1. Ask yourself: Why am I disagreeing?

Sometimes the reason isn't a good one. Ask yourself some tough questions: Am I using my superior position to force through a hastily made decision? Is it the other person's idea I don't like or is it the other person? Am I personally invested in my position or is it good for the organization? Am I underestimating the other person's ability to think up something good? Do I tend to resist change?

Thinking through the reason why you disagree might make you conclude there's no need to.

2. Do I understand the other position?

Assuming you believe you're being objective and that your idea is better, ask yourself another set of questions: Does my adversary have information bearing on the issue that I don't have? Is that person facing a set of bigger problems and can't resolve this one in the ideal way? Is that solution better long-term? What's good about that idea?

3. The Q&A

You've concluded you should disagree. Now you need to learn more about the other person's position. At this point you'll ask questions of the other party. Examples: Why have you come to that conclusion? What outcomes do you expect from your plan? What's the possible downside? How will you measure success? What alternatives have you considered?

All these are open-ended questions, the kind that requires more than a yes or no response. Ask them with words and tone that keep the conversation positive.

Paraphrase the other person's answers to be sure you understand fully. Then ask yes-or-no questions to confirm your understanding.

4. Reevaluating Your Position

At this point you understand your adversary's position better. Do you still prefer your plan? Does it need adjusting in the light of what you learned?

Maybe you should go back to the drawing board. Better yet, you can ask the other person to help you adjust your solution - or to work with you to combine the two plans.

5. Presenting Your Plan

Don't assume that presenting the facts in a clear, logical sequence is all you need to sell your solution. You also have to consider the concerns the other person expressed during the Q&A.

Present your plan with strength and conviction because unless you're enthusiastic about it the other person won't be. If you're the superior person in the meeting, be careful not to overdo the enthusiasm because it can become intimidating.

As you present your solution, test the other person's understanding and receptivity. Once more, use questions: What do you think? Does that make sense? Are we all right so far? Be alert for verbal and physical clues that can help tell you how you're coming across.

If you're presenting to someone higher up in the organization, put more emphasis on what the plan will achieve rather than how you'll implement it; get into the nitty-gritty only if you're asked to.

The Outcome

Properly handled in all its phases, this process can help turn raw ideas into powerful solutions. It also can turn adversaries into allies.

Kevin Daley is founder and chairman of Communispond, Inc., the communications skills training company. Communispond has trained more than 450,000 management-level employees in interpersonal communications, management and sales at over 300 of the Fortune 500 companies. Its curriculum includes special communications challenges like security analysts meetings, virtual meetings and moving an audience to action. Daley has personally trained 62 board chairmen, 320 company presidents and 3,100 sales managers. He is co-author with Laura Daley-Caravella of Talk Your Way to the Top: How to Address Any Audience Like Your Career Depends on It, published by McGraw-Hill. The author welcomes your thoughts on any aspect of organizational communications. kdaley@communispond.com .

Many more articles in Communications in The CEO Refresher Archives


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