Agree to Disagree at Work

Disagreement is quite normal in any social and organisational setting — except in the workplace where disagreements tend to carry a negative notion. We tend to believe that saying ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘I see this differently’ will result in being labelled angry, unkind or rude. And, the people who disagree with the status quo or challenge the norm are regularly told that they are ‘difficult’ or ‘not a team player’. Agreeing is usually easier than confronting someone, but really only in the short run. Don’t we all get satisfaction from looking around the room at people, to see them all nodding in agreement with the decision — only then to be totally disappointed when we find out that group members complain or undermine the decision in secret?

As a leader, putting on your fancy and expensive reading glasses and hoping that conflicts will pass you by is not the most effective method for problem-solving. Conflict rarely solves itself — in fact, it is not uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem because of a false agreement or lack of robust, conflict-based discussion around a decision. Fostering a culture that avoids conflict and instead focuses on attaining unanimous agreement with each other, will fail to get the best out of your team. When managed well, conflict produces positive outcomes for your team and business.

Here are a few pointers to get the most of your workplace conflicts or disagreements:

1. Seek opportunities to learn & grow

One must remember that the course of acquiring education and seeking knowledge don’t stop at the school, college or university. It’s a life-long journey. One can still learn at being work. That’s why good organisations urge their leaders and employees to participate in their continuous learningprograms and don’t take that as an expense but as an investment made in their human resources.

As uncomfortable as it may feel when someone challenges your ideas, it’s an opportunity to learn. By listening and incorporating feedback, you gain experience, try new things, and evolve as a manager. When a peer chews you out after an important presentation because you didn’t give her team credit for their work, the words may sting, but you’re more likely to think through everyone’s perspectives before preparing your next talk.

2. Take Disagreement as an Opportunity

Xerox’s Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people saying that “if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant”. As leaders, we don’t need to surround ourselves with ‘puppets’ or ‘yes minsters’. Let’s help create a healthy, lively and thinking work culture. Encourage teams to bring forward newer ideas, come up with logical debate, and have courage to say NO.

To use conflict to its full potential, first, we must change our thinking and educate our teams around what conflict can bring to the table. Conflict is the pursuit of the best idea or decision. The most effective teams regularly disagree about ideas, goals, strategies, and steps for implementation. Disagreeing, in a respectful yet robust manner, is important in any business as it will almost always lead to better decisions and outcomes.

3. Trust is Non-Negotiable

In this age of remote work regime, the relevance of trust in the workplace is no longer questioned. When trust is present, people step forward and deliver their very best, together. Your team will align around a common purpose, take risks, have each other’s back, and communicate openly and honestly when there is trust. When trust is absent, people jockey for position, hoard information, play it safe and talk about — rather than to- one another.

We have all seen that in organisations, trust is built and sometimes, trust is broken. There may be times when people will not see eye to eye, but when people treat each other fairly and can get their ideas across without feeling belittled or discriminated against, then trust can be built within the workplace. When people genuinely care about the team and the topic being presented that requires a decision, you can trust that they have the best interests of the business at the heart — whether that means agreeing or disagreeing with the ultimate decision.

Suggested Reading: Speed of Trust

4. Don’t Jump on a conclusion

When encouraging a healthy conflict, you should expect people to support their opinions and recommendations with data and facts — not emotions.

If you feel you are not making any progress during a disagreement because there is a lack of information, poor information, no information or disinformation, it’s time to break — reconvene your brainstorming session at a later date. Often an issue will be resolved after the second or third conversation. Do not feel that you need to extinguish a disagreement immediately.

Set up your next session probably at a different venue so everyone feels more comfortable and can openly debate and discuss a solution without interruptions. Allow enough time so no one individual monopolizes the conversation or controls the issue. Each person should have adequate time to state their point of view, the more opinions in a process, the better the ultimate outcome.

5. Learn to deal with Conflict

The difference between healthy conflict and toxic conflict often lies in how one chooses to deal with it. If you are experiencing little dissension in your team, examine your actions. Do you non-verbally or verbally send the message that it is not ok to disagree? If an employee expresses a different opinion are you quick to ‘take the conversation offline’ and shut down the disagreement before your authority is questioned?

You need to create a culture that respects and encourages differences of opinions and varying points of view. People who feel rewarded and recognized for healthy disagreements are more likely to share their opinion even if it means they are arguing contrary to the majority view. You must actively encourage different points of views and opinions in pursuit of reaching the best decision and outcome. The key to success is that the team must all support the final decision, even if they were against it in the first instance. This means a whole-hearted, 100%, commitment to the final agreed decision. Needless to say that any attempt to sabotage the final agreed decision will impact on the success of the business.

Final Thoughts

There are really only three positions that an individual can adopt in the workplace after there has been strong debate. You either ‘agree and commit,’ ‘disagree and commit’ or ‘disagree and quit’. There must be an understanding amongst the team that if you don’t ‘win’, you must respect the final decision and support it.

Your team will gain more trust if you continue to agree to disagree at the workplace, try new things and most importantly evolve together as a team. Leaders who cannot deal with conflict will eventually watch all of their top talent walk out the door, in search of a more healthier and safer work environment. You may even find that disagreeing is exactly what the other person wishes you would do — as long as you approach it healthily and respectfully.

Learn how sometimes smaller things in our lives make huge impact and you can take some learnings on a personal and professional level by following me on LinkedIn and on our official website. Also follow us on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, Instagramand YouTube.

Muhammad Sajwani is the Founder, Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Evolve HR which aims at transforming, enriching and evolving Human Capital of Pakistan. At Evolve HR, him and his team thrives in challenging assumptions that hinder organisational aspirations, by creating innovative solutions that yield maximum impact, scalability & benefit to a wider base of stakeholders. As a Business Coach and Organisational Consultant, Sajwani knows how to combine business insights with people insights to transform organisations and put them on the path to growth.

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C-Level HR, Transformation Leader, Board Advisor, Writer, Business Coach & Organisational Consultant

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Muhammad Sajwani

Muhammad Sajwani

C-Level HR, Transformation Leader, Board Advisor, Writer, Business Coach & Organisational Consultant

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