Dealing with disagreements
All leaders encounter disagreements. Additionally, some situations require leaders to create disagreements and in others they work to solve them.
Leaders not only encounter disagreements, they land in the center of some. Additionally, they may become the focus and brunt of others.
A Defensive posture means you’re trying to prevent an opponent from scoring points. Defensiveness creates opponents and moves discussions from concepts, ideas, and solutions to people.
Defensiveness during disagreements creates positional arguments where participants are combatants and winning becomes personal.
The worst thing leaders do during disagreements is shifting focus from solution-finding to people.
One thing is certain. Disagreements that become personal distract organizations and waste resources.
Strong leaders leverage disagreements while weak leaders win arguments.
Even though all leaders deal with disagreements, those new to leadership may stumble by advocating for one position rather than seeking broader solutions.
In addition, at the beginning of disagreements, withhold your solution. By doing so you free others to think creatively without feeling pressure to conform to your opinion. Another benefit of withholding your solution (at least for awhile) is you don’t have anything to defend.
Finally, understand that disagreements may create high potential environments where high heat molds great solutions.
A leader’s strength is best seen in an ability to remain calm and focused on solution-seeking rather than winning a disagreement.
What other ways can leaders avoid defensiveness?
What general strategies for dealing with disagreements do you employ?
Great points Dan. So often we forget that discussion and disagreement are the first step in the exploratory process.
If we all agree on the answer from the outset – we probably would have already executed on it. Disagreement is the opposite of Group-Think and the leader’s most valuable role can be that of discussion facilitator. Here are a few facilitation tips when dealing with disagreement within a team discussion:
1. It’s always about the issue – not the person.
2. Encourage everyone to engage in the discussion
3. Dive Deeper – often the most significant points are thought and not said – uncover them – and bring them out.
4. Use “What If” as a discussion tool – What if Joe is right? How does that affect this opportunity….
5. Don’t kill the discussion by taking a position too early – listen to the team and what comes out of the discussion – you might just learn something.
It’s natural to want harmony and avoid conflict. But often, working constructively through disagreements get’s you to a place where harmony (an productivity) are more likely to occur.
Thank you for adding your insights. Anyone dropping in here would go far just to follow the five points you list.
It’s a pleasure reading your perspective and learning from practical suggestions.
I hadn’t thought about “what if” conversations. I’m delighted you added it here.
Best to you,
Pearls, Joan, pearl! Each one of your observations radiate.
#3, although it may feel counter intuitive to survival, yep, ‘lean in’ to that discussion.
The ‘what if’ got me thinking too. What if, as an experiment for productive meetings, before each meeting, a person in the meeting was the DDA–Designated Dis-Agree-er. It would be interesting to either appoint or ask for volunteers. There could be a framework so the role did not become counter-productive. What does it say about a leader who very actively seeks counter-points to her/his proposals and ideas?
At the heart of conflicting perspectives is growth and opportunity…as long the conflict meets Joan’s criteria.
Excellent points. Joan has great comments too. It’s very easy, even as a seasoned leader to get defensive when emotions are high. It’s key for leaders to understand when they are a sounding board and that the attack is not on the leader. Those who take a lot of ownership may feel attacked when it’s nor really about them. The leader who can step back has a better opportunity to reach a greater solution. Thanks for sharing.
Encountering and creating disagreement both is leadership activity. And depends upon intention of a leader. If intention is positive and provides right direction to people in ethical manner, both are right. On the other hand, if intention is to benefit self, then both misleads people. But an effective leader is one who encounters disagreement, because people have faith in him and believe that he will fulfill thier expectation,That is why, they open up to look for solution. Creating disagreement seems to be more self centric and encountering looks more people centric. defensiveness comes from unawareness, ignorance and lack of knowldege.The other that boosts defensiveness is ego and fear of failure, and all of these are evils that hinders growth. In fact, defending creates problems and encountering finds solutions.
The perhaps best way to overcome defensivenss is acceptance. One has to be real and unmask the layers of ego and ignorance. And the way to deal with disagreement is to be flexible and open up. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Sense others to be sensed. Develop others to develop yourself.
**Overcome defensiveness by acceptance. Thanks for that concise observation.
While reading it I thought about accepting ourselves and also accepting others. I’m so glad you added that thought. Acceptance is one major factor in confidence to deal with disagreements without being unnecessarily aggressive.
Best to you,
Ajay is a featured contributor who regularly shares his perspective with the LF community: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta/
Best phrase “Strong leaders leverage disagreements while weak leaders win arguments.”
I personally strive to start disagreements from “I’m wrong, now what?” If I can keep that thought in mind when disagreement comes – we are all ahead. The times I tried to prove I’m right, I lost. I lost the real purpose, to create a team, to create a mutual win.
Today I’m much more willing to be wrong for the sake of winning.
“now what?” keeps conversations going in a forward direction. It seems to me that much of leadership is keeping things moving and not getting stuck in controversy or disagreements.
Love the quote.. “wrong for the sake of winning.”
Great words Dan!
Leading different teams I have learned the most from people who disagree with me.
I always try to look into people´s eyes and body language to detect discomfort, even when they are expressing agreement, and invite them to speak freely. That sometimes needs to be done apart from the team in order to get the person to start speaking her/his mind and to see there is growtyh behind disagreement.
Although sometimes it feels really comfortable to have a team who usually agrees with what we say, one should distrust when this situations happen too often. I rather believe there is always a better way of doing things (than mine) or at least that something could be added or changed.
Also the need for quick fixes many times can lead us to try and go with our “star” employee´s opinion not considering the rest for the sake of solving the probleam as fast as possible… but is it the best solution?
Thank you for your useful addition to this discussion.
It’s great that you add using non-verbal signals as an aid to searching below surface agreement. Nicely done. We need to watch for people who lean away or avoid eye contact etc. they may be thinking otherwise and their thoughts may be helpful.
I’ll add my endorsement of the value of private meetings to get added feedback.
I look forward to hearing more from you.
I liked your concluding remarks,”A leader’s strength is best seen in an ability to remain calm and focused on solution-seeking rather than winning a disagreement”. It is well said and it speaks volumes in favour of the inner strength of a leader i.e. to remain calm and look for solutions rather than winning arguments.
I have seen CEOs walking out of the meeting with a polite excuse or simpling listening to disagreements without showing unpleasantness or expressing views/comments at a particular juncture.
Handling disagreements with a tact and bringing postitveness amongst the team is an art and the successful leader does it in a very convincing way. Remaining calm in difficult situations calls for a high level of maturity and it comes with experience and the penchant for achieveing organization goals. The real motivation comes with a guiding force which would inspire people to seek solutions through a healthy debate. Disgareements are bound to be there when you have an hetrogeneous group of professionals.
The leader will march ahead with solutions after rounds of disagreements/ debates with his strong team of followers.
Dear Dr. Asher,
Thank you for your comment.
Yes indeed. Your comment re: inner strength is so true. It’s weakness and fear that make us territorial, angry, and defensive.
I’m glad you consistently join the LF conversation and add value to others.
Dr. Asher’s bio and picture is posted on a featured contributor page at:
As the people-skills coach, I can’t resist jumping into this discussion on “disagreements”. Dis-agreeing can be quite valuable to orgs., teams, and even in one’s personal life.
The key to capturing its value is remembering to show respect for each other while disagreeing with ideas. One easy way to do this is leave off the “you” while disagreeing — it keeps the focus on the exploration of ideas and off the personal attacks. Use open-ended questions to keep the ideas flowing and it leads to solutions not foreseen by either “side”.
All the best,
It’s great you took a moment to share a simple, useful, and powerful insight.
Don’t say “you” while you’re in a disagreement. Bingo.
Kate Nasser is a featured blogger for Leadership Freak. You can read about her at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/kate-nasser/
Lots of great comments from all contributors so far! I especially like the 5 points from Joan.
This is my first visit to your blog and have found it thought-provoking and relevant. I am currently in the middle of writing about leadership and am fairly new to blogging so am learning lots from reading other people’s (including yours!)
Thanks again for this article.
Thanks for your kind words. I agree, Leadership Freak readers leave the best comments on the web. In my opinion.
Best in your blogging. Do come back and share.
No disagreements here with either your post or the comments. I want to emphasize the underlying theme. It is easier to get business from satisfied existing customers than from new ones. Smart companies therefore do everything they can to please existing (and lower maintenance) customers. By the same token, a company that encourages new ideas gets more good ones over time. How a leader acts during disagreements is a key factor in whether people are willing to share ideas in the future. It is worth spending a little time and self-control in the moment to create an open culture in the long run. Thanks, Dan.
Thanks for your comment. You help us realize the power of dealing effectively with disagreements in that it helps create an open culture where innovation and improvement thrive.
Thank you for sharing your perspective.
Dear Dan, great short article!
I particularly like this ‘… some situations require leaders to create disagreements and in others they work to solve them.’
and the the last two concluding lines:
‘A leader’s strength is best seen in an ability to remain calm and focused on solution-seeking rather than winning a disagreement.’
Thank you, Dan, for reaching out directly over Twitter.
Your quote, “Strong leaders leverage disagreements while weak leaders win arguments,” is powerful…I think your observation is analogous to “winning the battle but losing the war.”
Also, I’d like to build onto the point your reader Kate made about using open-ended questions.
Words have meaning(s). It may seem elementary, but that “s” at the end of the word can be a challenging (and sometimes difficult to diagnose) cause of arguments. Sometimes one open-ended question that can be powerful is, “What do you mean by the word/phrase, [insert phrase here]?” I’ve seen programs reach a near-impasse’ over a couple of divisive or power-packed words, when replacing that word with another word can return the team to equilibrium. Teams sometimes benefit from sharing a common lexicon and using them consistently over time.
Behold, the power of nuance.
President, Valutivity LLC
Wow..there are such great points here.
As a conflict coach, I work a lot with people who demonstrate defensiveness . What I often find at the bottom of that coping mechanism is that the person is defending something important to him or her – a value, and something to do with their status, for instance. For leaders and others including ourselves, it’s common that a perceived threat to our identity leads to defensiveness and then, the positional stance referred to and other counter-productive actions etc.
I help people who get defensive easily and to their detriment to gain increased awareness about the nature of things to which they they react. There is so often a pattern and their exploration of that helps them better understand their reactions. Until clients understand that pattern, they tend to repeat it and do not really switch to constructive responses. So, I think the starting point is for clients to work on ways to ‘dig deeper’ as suggested by checking out their assumptions and habitual ways of handling disagreements that lead to defensive responses. Then I find, they are more ready to consider other ways to cope that are more aligned with conflict competence and what they are really trying to achieve.