Disagreement Is Not Bad

disagreementIn today’s workplace, not to mention our political environment, it’s becoming harder and harder to disagree with someone and still work together. It’s as if we can’t coexist with differing points-of-view anymore and the attitude seems to be “if you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Couple that with most people’s dislike of confrontation and you have a situation where everyone is breaking off into tribes, and it’s back to high school all over again.

What do high school and a workplace have in common? Other than diverse groups of people gathered together for a purpose, not much. What is different? Supposedly the level of maturity of people in the workplace – we’re not 15 and hopefully have learned a thing or two, but these days that seems to be a question. What we didn’t have at 15 that we’re supposed to have now is a level of thought, tolerance, and experience that allows us to converse and discuss diverse topics including ones about which we disagree.

Unfortunately, as this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times points out, we have lost the ability to disagree and maintain our civility and connections. The level of discourse and anger that accompanies differing opinions has risen to the point that we shut down the ones we don’t agree with and essentially say “I’m right, you’re wrong” and “I don’t need to listen because I disagree.”

In fact, disagreement can often lead to increased understanding of an issue or topic and in most cases a better outcome of the disputed situation. Diplomacy and compromise are not bad words, they are at the heart of our democracy. Our first amendment rights allow us to say literally anything we want in a peaceful manner, but we now behave in a way that says you are wrong if you don’t think my way. The problem with being so “right” is that there has to be someone wrong to make it work. We have gotten so used to reality TV – which is not “real,” it’s just rude and crude – that even when the supposed non-biased news puts experts on to “debate” a topic it’s just a shout fest and no real listening is going on.

So how do we start listening for better understanding or a better outcome? We start by dropping our right/wrong filter and looking to prove our opinion. This is called confirmation bias and we all do it. We listen with a filter for what we want to hear, to confirm our “rightness.” If we drop that filter and really listen to what someone says, we might be able to see their point-of-view. From there, you can share your perspective and see if there are any intersecting points of agreement, any facts that may not be facts, and a way to bridge the gap from here to there. Even if you cannot find a way to believe what the other person says, or to convince them of your point-of-view, you can respectfully disagree without making them wrong.

Getting to agreement starts with learning how to disagree respectfully. If you hold your opinion just a little more lightly than you have been, it will help you see where others are coming from. From that vantage point, many more possibilities for agreement are within sight.