Please Disagree with Me!

With almost every client work session, coaching call, or leadership training session I’ve been involved with over the past two months, I’m seeing a troubling trend: Far too many managers are afraid to disagree with their colleagues, staffs, and others. Or if they do disagree, they can’t clearly and objectively articulate their reason for disagreeing. They provide protracted reasons as to why they disagree, hide behind apologies, or simply avoid stating they disagree. Why is it so difficult for so many to comfortably disagree? I see three common themes:

1 – Being Inclusive is Misunderstood:

In an attempt to be inclusive, too many managers are confusing being inclusive with being overly tolerant. In and attempt to be tolerant, they become quiet. That’s not being inclusive. That’s being weak. Being inclusive means you enable all to contribute to the process. However, it doesn’t mean everyone will contribute at the same level. Being tolerant means you allow all to have a voice. However, it doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion is correct or will be included in the final output. Being inclusive and tolerant means you allow others to be a part of the process in some way. Even though they may not all contribute equally or their particular ideas may not appear as obviously as others, they are included and that’s what matters. Life isn’t always fair or equal. It’s life.  

2 – Questions and Challenges Are Misinterpreted and Taken Personally:

In presenting a task force paper to a national board of directors recently, several directors asked questions, and challenged specifics within the report and with the recommendations. With each query I provided answers, referred them to relevant sections of the report or the appendices, or otherwise clarified the thought process of the task force members as we’d worked through the material and prepared the report. Afterwards, several directors commented on my ability to stay calm during the questioning. Honestly, I was surprised by their comments. It resonated with the directors that I didn’t take their challenges personally. However, I   interpreted their questions and challenges as a need to be even more clear with them in what we recommended they do next. I didn’t focus on defending what we’d created; I focused on ensuring they were informed so they could vote knowledgably. The questions weren’t attacks. They were requests for greater clarity.  

3 – Disagreeing is Often Confused with Being Contrary:  

Contrarians have a vital role to play: They cause us to sit back and rethink what we’ve come to believe as true. They can also become a pain in the fanny when they take their role too far or play it too often. They also become a pain when their opinions are intentionally hurtful or are misinformed. Because of that, many managers have come to hold back disagreeing with their colleagues and others for fear of being likened to a contrarian who’s too often simply contrary. So instead, many managers say nothing or weakly agree with what is being said, even when they don’t agree. Their desire to disagree is there, but their fear of being viewed as an antagonistic contrarian is stronger. They’re not confident speaking truthfully and disagreeing for fear of being labeled contrary.

If your team fears disagreements, can you identify why? If you don’t know why, take time to study who’s holding back and ask them why. If you do know why, what are you doing about it?

This article was originally published on Liz’s website and is reprinted with permission.