Today, there are all types of disagreements that we are witnessing. It could be the president and Congress, various heads of state or even people within your company. Maybe you are currently having conflict with one or more of your co-workers?

When people disagree, they usually engage in positional arguing. Each side takes a position and argues for it. Maybe they will reach agreement, but, unfortunately, often they will not. One important pointer about managing disagreements is not to haggle over positions. Why not?

  • It often produces unwise agreements

Since both parties dig in and stridently defend their positions, agreement becomes merely a mechanical splitting of the difference between positions. The result is often an agreement that each side feels is not as satisfactory as it should have been.

  • It is too costly and it takes too long

Each party has learned through experience that the best way to improve their chances of getting what they want is to begin the disagreement by taking an extreme position, holding to it obstinately, and then making small concessions only when absolutely necessary. These tactics add to the time and costs of reaching final agreement.

  • It jeopardizes relationships

Over time, each party becomes frustrated with the other. This frustration often leads to anger and resentment as each side feels that it is being made to bend to the will of the other.

You’re probably asking this question: “If our discussion does not focus on our opposing positions, what should it focus on?” The answer is simple — when you are trying to resolve a disagreement with another person or persons, you need to make an effort to find out the needs, concerns and fears behind the other person’s stated position. These are some different ways to do this:

  • Ask the person directly

“Terry, what’s you basic or underlying reason in wanting our organizations to merge at this time?” When you do this, make it clear that you do not just want a basic restatement of his position, but that you are truly interested in Terry’s goals and feelings.

  • Use an indirect approach

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about the position they are taking and ask yourself, “Why?” For instance, if I were Terry, why I would be so interested in a merger at this time? What would I get out of it? What would my company derive? Once you’ve identified these possibilities, you can mention them to the other person and examine their reactions.

  • Be On The Lookout For Basic Human Needs

Always be on the lookout for some of those bedrock needs that drive most people such as, security, economic well-being, a feeling of belonging, status, recognition, being regarded by others as being highly competent and possessing power and control.

Managerial research has shown that you have five primary strategies for dealing with interpersonal disagreements:

  • Avoiding: involves withdrawing from the situation in order to avoid conflict at all costs. This could involve leaving the solution to the passage of time or fate.
  • Smoothing: involves sweeping the disagreement “under the carpet” and pretending that everything is really pleasant, serene, and cooperative.
  • Compromising: involves each party getting something and giving up something.
  • Battling: involves fighting a battle in which one party becomes the clear loser and the other the clear winner.
  • Problem Solving: involves both parties first confronting the disagreement and then resolving it through collaborative problem solving.

Though all of these strategies can be useful at times, Avoiding and Battling often result in negative feelings and outcomes. Compromising works best when both you and the other person(s) somehow “win” as a result of the process. Smoothing can be a worthwhile strategy when you need time for feelings to cool down. However, you will need to eventually deal with the issues at some later date. If we had to choose one strategy that will work best in most situations, it would be problem solving.

How well do you listen when you are arguing with someone else? If you are like most of us, when the other part is speaking, you are either preparing your rebuttal or you are thinking of additional ways to support your viewpoint. Moreover, you instantly judge the other person’s statements as being right or wrong by using your own point of view without ever trying to consider it from their perspective. From now on, try these techniques:

  • Give the other person your full attention without thinking about how you are going to respond.
  • Avoid interrupting the other person or persons.
  • Show the person you are really listening to them by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head periodically, and leaning forward.

In his book, “Managing Disagreement Constructively,” Herbert Kindler presents four blocks that can interfere with the constructive resolution of differences. The next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone at work, examine whether you may be exhibiting:

  • Rigid Behavior: where you are so committed to your views that you are completely unwilling to change your mind, reluctant to admit when you are wrong, and averse to listening to opposing viewpoints
  • Timid Behavior: where you forego stating your position for the sake of maintaining harmonious relations, and allow others to push past your views without giving them the consideration they deserve.
  • Intrusive Behavior: where you like to be personally involved or you take charge, even when it is not necessary to the task at hand, or when you have an opinion about everything, even things you do not know much about.
  • Aloof Behavior: where you avoid confrontations that are likely to be emotionally charged, avoid getting personally involved if you can delegate the responsibility to others, and keep your feelings to yourself even when others share theirs with you.

Before trying to solve any complex disagreement, it is essential that all “people problems” be disentangled from the real problem, and then dealt with separately. We can think of two high-level executives we know who disagreed adamantly about their organization’s proposed marketing plan. They had no hope of coming to any agreement on this issue until they first worked on resolving the fact that they had mistrust and resentment toward one another.

Whenever people disagree vehemently with one another, the result unfortunately is a weak solution. Why? In their book, “Getting To Yes,” Roger Fisher and William Ury contend that trying to decide something in the presence of an adversary narrows your vision. Having a lot at stake also inhibits your creativity. To counter this, ask to meet with the other person(s) in a nonthreatening place, such as a conference room or at a meeting place outside the office. Begin the session by pinpointing together exactly where the disagreement lies; then, work collaboratively on generating as many alternative solutions as you can; and finally, strive to come up with at least five possibilities. Remember, the only way to do this is to make certain that everyone involved remains nonjudgmental.

The two of you cannot possibly agree on which brainstormed decision or solution should be adopted without first agreeing on several objective standards. Examples of objective standards to which each brainstormed decision or solution could be judged against are:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Company profits
  • Tradition
  • Professional standards
  • Minimizing costs
  • Public relations
  • Efficiency
  • Integrity

Now, rather than debating what each party is going to do or not do, the focus of the conversation is on what is the best solution or decision for the business.  Steve Taormino, CEO, and Jack Taormino, Vice President used this approach recently when deciding on changing the name of their company to CC&A Strategic Media from CC & A Web Development. They felt that the new name conveyed better what their company does.

It takes a great deal of effort to fight against the natural tendency to show disrespect and anger toward others who disagree with us. It is crucial that you express disagreements tactfully and sensitively, that you allow the other side to let off steam, that you do not react to their emotional outbursts, and that you attack the problem and not the person.

The best solution to any disagreement is where both parties leave the situation and feel that they have won, and not lost. To make this happen, you need to:

  • Focus on Interests, Not Positions

Consider the story of two men quarreling in a library:

One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three quarters of the way. No solutions satisfy them both. Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: “To get some fresh air.” She asks the other why he wants it closed: “To avoid the draft.” After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bring in the fresh air without a draft.

  • During discussions, be on the lookout for things the other person proposes that you could live with. Monitor your own tendency to want to win at all costs.
  • Do not get defensive and take what the other person says personally.
  • If you find yourself falling into a win/lose mentality, suggest finding a third person who can help mediate the issue.

Finally, be sure to develop a plan for future follow-up meetings or discussions with the other party to assess how well things are working. Use the objective standards with which you both agree. Make sure that both of you are willing to admit that things are working well, even though they may not be the way you originally desired.

Please let us know how our tips are working for you by contacting us at ken@wexleyconsulting.com.