November 21, 2017

Your Tuesday Top 5: How to Agree to Disagree

Posted by AGU Career Center

Every Tuesday, Patricia Yaya, AGU Vice President of Human Resources & Administrative Services, sends a message to the entire AGU staff featuring five short tips for getting by in the workplace.  On the Job will be publishing these tips in a new weekly segment, Tuesday Top 5.

Did you know that healthy disagreement is essential for good teamwork? It’s true. At its core, constructive discussions need different opinions and perspectives. Encourage team members to express doubts and reservations and offer candid, but respectful, opinions. In other words, “share the air.” After truly constructive dialogue, smart (i.e., informed) business decisions can be made.

So this Thanksgiving Week, remember to be thankful to those who are willing to speak up with alternative opinions because they help you become a better leader.

Here are your Tuesday Top 5 Tips on How to Agree to Disagree.

1. Understand points of disagreement.

Make a practice of establishing ground rules where you set clear boundaries for a safe environment that allows everyone to share their opinions. Clarify understanding of your disagreement(s) and those of other team members. Ask questions. Keep in mind that providing recommendations to resolve disagreements without understanding them first is problematic. Stop. Think. Ask questions. Strive to (1) make your viewpoint clear and to (2) understand alternative viewpoints.

2. Think big picture instead of getting into the weeds.

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the details that we forget to see the forest through the trees. When you find yourself getting wrapped up in a heated debate over the little things, take a step back and think about your larger objective.  Instead of asking, “Is my opinion going to advance our goal?,” ask yourself, “Is this debate hindering our advance towards a solution?” 

3. Be respectful.

To be successful, respect must be commonplace in a constructive discussion. (1) Practice sharing your point in a concise and calm manner, (2) refrain from blaming others, (3) keep emotions out of it, and (4) be willing to let go of the past.

4. Listen.

Listening is key to understanding other team members’ positions. And, that understanding is key to successful outcomes. Disagreement is healthy; conflict is not. Know the difference (i.e., constructive versus destructive). Listen, and use the opinions of others, i.e., the disagreement, to expand your own thinking. Be willing to learn and see things through different lenses. If you open yourself to different perspectives, better resolutions and new opportunities may present themselves. In short, listen and be the better for it.

5. Find consensus.

Consensus is considering presented alternatives and narrowing them down to one approach. To do this, be willing to shift focus away from any one person or group “being right” and toward finding a solution that works. Let ego and department/personal interests at the door. That does not mean that everyone agrees with the decision, but it is crucial that after the decision is made, all support it. Consensus leads to better decisions, implementation and team relationships.

Patricia Yaya is the Vice President of Human Resources and Administrative Services at the American Geophysical Union.  Additional AGU Staff contributed to this blog.