My Dad used to say “If you want to be the Devil’s advocate you’d better have the Devils answer.”
Dad’s leadership style is principled and strong and he expected his senior leaders to not just point out the problem but to bring some insights and solutions as well.
As we equip leaders from all over the world we notice a very similar pattern with communication and conflict.
Most people have NOT learned how to disagree constructively.
When we don’t know what to do, human nature returns to what our most base and deeply embedded patterns are, often called the fight or flight response.
I’m a fighter. Get in, tough it out and come out better and stronger on the other side.
Disagreeing, I embrace and invite. Being disagreeable is harder to lead people through.
- Disagreeing is seeing the issue as the problem.
- Disagreeable is seeing the relationship as the problem.
To shift this dynamic, we need to focus on intent.
What do you really want from this discussion?
You see, I believe disagreeing has the intent of making it better. Being disagreeable is a lot less helpful because it takes the focus away from the issue and on to the relational dynamics, playing the person and not the problem.
I’m not saying we don’t have feelings and emotions around these issues. I’m not saying they don’t matter, and we can check our hearts at the door. I’m not saying there will be times of conflict that will require everyone to act like grownups and work hard to create a way forward.
I’m saying we need to understand that our job as leaders is to disagree constructively and teach others how to do it too.
In a recent Farnham Street Post they quoted Dale Carnegie’s timeless wisdom on How to Win Friends and Influence People and they listed ways we might go off track in conflict and how we can bring it back around to shape and influence the conversation.
Don’t come out and say “Well you’re wrong and here’s why.” That’s a perfect storm for escalation.
Take a step back and use the following phrases:
- “That’s very interesting. I think you’re right about this thing here.”
- “I can understand why you’d be saying that.”
- “Here’s something in my experience that confirms what you said.”
By agreeing and validating you hold the space open for the conversation to continue with good intent and openness.
At that point you can pivot to “but now on the other hand it seems to me that…” or “I get what you’re saying, another perspective might be…” and “I get you, an alternative way of looking at this could be…”.
Communication matters in teams and in my experience we tend to do it by default, not design. This leaves too much room to go off track.
Be the leader who learns and teaches others to disagree with intent and help the conversation flourish and the team to go further faster.
Where can you focus on disagreeing with positive intent and what impact might it have in your life and leadership?
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.