The how-to’s and don’t-do’s of disagreement, at work, but also in life.
Today’s post is by thoughtLEADERS principal Maureen Metcalf.
As leaders, we continue to face an increasing level of complexity. With political shifts happening across the globe, we are finding more than ever before that we are working with people who have dramatically different views than we have. Many are even violating the time-held rule not to discuss politics or religion at work.
For many, these discussions, along with a barrage of political demonstrations and news coverage, have left us feeling overwhelmed and often concerned about our immediate and long-term future. Many people appear more agitated, and agitated people are less effective employees, family members and friends.
An emerging leader and MBA student, Ben, recently told me that he watched two of his staff members come close to physical blows because of a political disagreement. His department is not directly impacted by the political discussion at hand, yet tempers are still high. The challenge for Ben was restoring a civil and supportive working relationship after people crossed lines that are hard to uncross.
In the book Leadership 2050, Mike Morrow-Fox, Susan Cannon and I discuss seven competencies we believe are required for leaders to successfully run complex organizations. Although the book is called Leadership 2050, having these competencies today is more important than ever before.
After hearing Ben’s story, the competency that stood out to me was focusing on being innately collaborative, as it speaks to the challenges we are currently facing. Ben suggested that the disagreement among his staff actually informed him how to promote successful operations going forward because he got to know more about his team than before. Being innately collaborative means seeking multiple points of view to address complex situations with novel or emergent solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders.
I wanted to test my thinking with a diverse group I led to see if we could quickly find common ground. This group started in a neutral environment, and though there was no immediate conflict to resolve, there were clear tensions amidst large local protest. By the end of our discussion, the group had a stronger relationship and willingness to share more openly.
Here are the expectations we set to promote healthy interaction:
Acknowledge and surface differing perspectives in the room. Ask people what they see that will allow you to put together the most comprehensive understanding of the current situation and possible solutions. Specifically, you are looking to surface as many different views as possible.
Treat everyone respectfully. Pay attention to how you react to everyone. When we look at differing perspectives, there are some we will agree with and others that we’ll find challenging to do so. It is particularly important to pay attention to how we treat people whose opinions differ.
Allow people space to express differing points of view without interruption. Be mindful of others’ pace and body language as well as how you are reacting to each individual.
Differ constructively. When you express a differing point of view, consider using phrases such as, “From my perspective,” or “Help me understand how you are addressing this specific issue.”
Express willingness to be influenced by new information. As you listen to others, convey directly that while you have formed a point of view, you are open to exploring different perspectives and revisiting your view as you hear ideas that bolster your thinking.
Invite quieter participants to add their perspective. If there are people in the room who are not speaking, consider asking them what they think. Another approach to ensuring everyone participates is to go around the table and ask everyone to explain their point of view.
Add a liberal dose of humor. Find the humor in situations, but be careful not to let people think you are making fun of them. When possible, tell a funny story about one of your own experiences to show you don’t take yourself too seriously.
Create a new direction that integrates the best thinking of all participants. After listening to everyone’s input, share your take on the outcome of the conversation. End the synthesis by asking people to fill in any gaps or correct any missed points in your synopsis.
Many of us are struggling to make sense of what is happening around us. While we have limited ability to drive national and global policy, we can have a strong impact on our personal and professional relationships. We can reverse the negativity and inject the grace and civility required to allow us to restore a sense of personal security in a time where many feel off balance.
Originally published on forbes.com
Maureen is the President of Metcalf & Associates, Inc., bringing 26 years of business experience to the table as she helps professionals grow well beyond their own expectations. Her work is focused on helping leaders innovate how they lead while transforming their organizations. She’s also a principal here at thoughtLEADERS. She teaches our programs on building personal resilience. Contact us if you’re interested in bringing the course into your organization.
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