Disagreeing Professionally and Productively

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Disagreeing Professionally and Productively

The best part about humans is that each is unique with their own ideas, imaginations, perspectives, and opinions. Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and there are professional and productive ways to disagree. It is important to understand that there is a place at work for productive disagreements. From a Harvard Business Review article How to debate ideas Productively at work,
"While diverse thinking and disagreements can be uncomfortable, they are more likely to lead partners or a team to make progress, innovate, and come up with breakthrough solutions than consensus and "nice" conversations in which people hold back what they think."
From a Ted Talk, Julia Dhar: How to disagree productively and find common ground, there were a few key takeaways in how to disagree professionally and productively:
  • find common ground
  • separate ideas from identity
  • practice humility
Finding common ground or a shared reality builds a foundation on which to start communicating our difference in opinions. For example, patient safety may be your common ground. Everyone can agree that in a laboratory setting we want to do what is best for the patient. From this shared reality you build your discussion around how and why each opinion aligns with your common ground.
The second key takeaway, separate ideas from identity, emphasizes focusing on the idea and the opinion, and not judging based on who has the opinion. A way to practice this is anonymous entry of ideas. If faced with a project in which there will be multiple opinions on how it should be accomplished, have ideas entered anonymously and review each idea identically. This will remove possible judgement and bias of who had the idea and will focus on the idea itself. This will also allow for submission of ideas from individuals that may not feel comfortable voicing their idea or opinion.
Lastly, practice humility. Be open to the fact that you may be wrong, or your opinion/idea may not be the best one. You can practice humility by pre-commiting to this possibility prior to getting into a disagreement. This will allow you to enter into a disagreement with a mindset open to the opinions of others.
Try to practice the following when in disagreement:
  • "Ask for permission"; similar to when giving feedback, first ask for "permission" to provide an alternative view, for example "I have a different opinion/thought on the matter, can we find a time to talk through it?"
  • Disagreement should come from a place of thought, not emotion. You should be in your wise mind verses your emotional mind. Focus on simply presenting your alternative opinion.
  • Recognize if you are feeling defensive during a disagreement, pause a conversation if it is moving away from professional and productive.
  • Connect the disagreement to a higher goal (find your common ground) for example patient safety, customer expectations, organizational goals.
  • Talk through your disagreement with a "loving critic" first
  • Keep the perspective of others in mind and do not come from a place of "it's my way or the highway"
  • Do not use negative, blaming comments such as "your idea is stupid...it doesn't make sense...it's wrong"
  • Take disagreements offline if they arise in the middle of a meeting
  • Recognize that if you are disagreeing with your manager, they may have the ultimate say even after you present your opinion