When you group together talented, passionate people; differences of opinion are unavoidable. Capable, assertive people will express their opinions clearly, and sometimes others will disagree with them as a consequence. This isn’t a negative this is a positive. Indeed many people who are successful at job interviews make a good impression by respectfully and professionally disagreeing with their interviewer.
It is in the discussion and debating of these differences of opinion that many breakthroughs are made. The secret is managing the disagreement.
As a manager, you need to ensure that the discussion stays professional and productive.
The first rule is to give disagreements an honoured place – the meeting room. If disagreements are kept professional, they will rarely spill into the group dynamics.
Remember this is one of your key roles. If disagreements are getting personal or out of hand you have to step in promptly and speak to the people involved. If you find this difficult assertiveness training will be very helpful.
Other ways that you can encourage different opinions and manage disagreements are:
1 Encourage people’s opinions:
Disagreements come from opinions. You must encourage people to vocalise theirs to get the best from your team.
However, this freedom of expression must be coupled with ensuring that nobody dominates. If your team contains very confident people you may need to speak to them to ensure that they don’t dominate and let everyone speak up.
2 Call up behaviour, not people:
When (and it is when!) you need to speak to someone to ensure that disagreements are kept professional you need to ensure that you focus on their behaviour. Do not personalise the criticism and point it at the person but stick to the behaviour. Personalising the criticism will likely inflame the situation rather than leading to a calm discussion of how to manage the behaviour.
Do not personalise the criticism and point it at the person but stick to discussing the behaviour. Personalising the criticism will likely inflame the situation rather than leading to a calm discussion of how to improve things.
3 Avoid misunderstandings:
Simple misunderstandings can sometimes be the cause of disagreement, or make a disagreement worse.
One way to avoid this sort of unhelpful disagreement is for a manage to step in and clarify points made before someone else responds (or reacts) to them.
If you are chairing a meeting then you can make this even more misunderstanding-proof by actually repeating the point made and then welcoming a response from someone else with “how do you feel about that?”
4 Know when it’s over:
Some disagreements get worked over again and again. This isn’t helpful for anyone. Usually, a warning sign of this is when the same points get brought up again.
It is important as manager to make clear that disagreeing is not the same as not listening. Someone can listen to you and still disagree with you. This means that if they disagree with you the solution is not to repeat your point!
Again you need to assertively deal with these types of disagreement as they are not productive or good for morale. Our guide on assertiveness contains a number of useful tips if you find this type of team management tricky.
5 Give it some space:
It is not unusual for assertive people to get heated or intense.
Sometimes you need to encourage people to step back and give the ideas being discussed some space. You can take the approach of ‘we’re not leaving until this is sorted’ but sometimes people need some time to digest everything that they have said and heard.
If you do choose to give it some space, just make sure you do return to it as promised so that as residual anger or frustration is cleared.
6 Find common ground:
In the spirit of agreeing to disagree, conflict can often be managed by encouraging people to give their different perspectives and then finding the commonalities between their views.
Although people may not agree on all points, pointing out all of the areas where they do agree with each other will remind them that they are working for the same goal and that they don’t disagree on everything.
Disagreement can be destructive or constructive. It depends on how it is handled and managed. As a manager learning when to let team members air and debate points and when to step in to avoid things poisoning relationships is key. Assertive managers will act swiftly when they see things are becoming unprofessional, to avoid any residual bad feelings amongst their team.
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