How to disagree productively and find common ground

“reshape the way we talk to each other”

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How to disagree productively

In this TED’s Julia Dhar suggests it’s time we reshape the way we talk to each other so we can start disagreeing productively and find a genuine way to persuade and be persuaded  – with mutual respect,  in our personal as well as business lives.

The classic way to debate an issue is to give your opinion, idea, and then the opposing party provides a rebuttal, to which you then again respond; both of you if possible scoring points along the way.  And as the “conversation” goes on, it becomes imperative to attack and knock down your counterpart – who has by now become your “opponent”.   Not a process that nurtures calm listening towards a sharing of ideas and vision, or a solution.

Could there be a better way?  How can we be more open, less defensive of our stance?  How can we engage with a conflicting idea directly, respectfully, productively?  In her TED’s talk Dhar suggests three techniques:

1.  Find common ground:

It takes the emotional “burn” out of the issue e.g. “what we can agree on is that sales targets must be raised, however, let’s discuss how this impacts on you”. You are then in the driving seat and can listen carefully to the points of view. “I can see that that would be a problem for you, and a definite no-no, however, can you suggest – if we agree that sales targets must be raised – how your department could help”?

The conflict is still there but the common ground gives us a platform from which to start.

2.  Speak to the IDEA only, remove the personality.

Your best winning strategy is to engage the “best, clearest, least personalised view of the idea”, and not the person or politics offering it. It is of course very human to dismiss an idea when you dislike a person, or think he/she is an idiot. So Dhar suggests that contentious ideas be submitted anonymously prior to a meeting and discussed merely as concepts, devoid of attached identity.

And then, most difficult of all …

3.  Be present to the possibility that you could be won over.

Or as Dhar puts it – face the humility of uncertainty – “ I’m opposed to your outlined idea,  however, I can see that you have given this much thought –  what I would need to change my mind is ”

Colleen Backstrom

Director of Kaleidoscope NeuroMarketing for Email Marketing & Web Design

Admittedly Dhar states that the above are “learned skills that will take some practice”; however, in my book these techniques are certainly worth a try if we want to go forward in a conflicted world.  See full talk here.

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