Squirmy. Anxious. Sweaty and hoping no one notices. Afraid I’ll be written off as “not smart enough” or someone who “just doesn’t get it.” This is how I feel when I’m considering taking the leap into disagreeing with someone and we don’t yet have trust in the bank.

Disagreement isn’t always like this. I have colleagues with whom I can energetically debate an idea, initiative or action plan. In these situations, there’s a richness to the exchange – an eager back and forth – that leaves me feeling both stretched and more connected.

How do we create more productive disagreement that results in growth?

Get in the habit of asking, “what do we see differently?” This habit normalizes and invites disagreement. There’s research to show that we’re more likely to act on feedback when we proactively request it. Inviting different perspectives to the table sets you up to be less likely to shift into defending your perspective. This move sets the table for curiosity and learning.

Check in on alignment around purpose. Name the bigger purpose that’s driving your point of view. If you’re working toward the same purpose and you’re taking different approaches to get there, it’s worth noting that you both have the same end game in mind.

Dial down the temperature of disagreement. Agree on several ground rules as soon as you notice this is a potentially heated issue.

  • Can you both commit to listening-to-understand instead of listening-to-win?
  • Can you create two separate blocks of time for discussion? One dedicated to getting each of your points of view on the table and a separate block of time for reaching a decision after you’ve had time to reflect independently?
  • Name who has the ultimate decision-making power and that you’ll commit to locking arms and moving forward once a decision is reached. No undermining the decision once it’s made.

If you need to be convinced that productive disagreement is worth the work, that it will improve your relationships and outcomes, start here.  

Three other things on my mind. I just learned about this podcast for book lovers. I made a double-batch of this salty-sweet cookie recipe and was reminded why it’s my favorite. This spring minestrone recipe.