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"Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago." Horace Mann

Conflict. It is one of those necessary evils we experience in our professional lives. Conflict can be healthy. It can move the company forward and can spur innovations that wouldn't be possible if everyone always had the same ideas. However, we also know the flip side. Conflict can devolve quickly if we aren't careful, and arguments are an extreme manifestation of conflict. While conflict often leads to positive outcomes, emotional arguments can permanently derail critical processes like negotiation or decision-making. So what can you do when you recognize an argument on the horizon?

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Our individual values impact the way we view the world, interact with others, and approach our work each day. Those values can also be a source of disagreement when they come in direct opposition to the values of a colleague. We are driven to defend the ideas that we value, and that drive is the source of most every disagreement in the workplace.

Simple Disagreement? Or Hatfield Vs. McCoy Blood Feud?

Constructive disagreements can be extremely productive, because typically, coworkers are genuinely looking for a solution. They share ideas, hash out opinions, and their goal is to walk away with an answer. Trouble arises when those disagreements break down. In an argument, all parties see an issue in black-and-white terms, and no one actively seeks a resolution.

You can disarm an argument when you are in tune with the tone and flow of a disagreement. Be self-aware and recognize when you start to care less about a resolution than you do about being right. When that happens, tap the breaks and shift gears back into healthy disagreement territory.

A Simple Strategy to Avoid Destructive Disagreements

The simplest and typically most effective strategy to refocus a potential argument is to stop making statements and start asking questions. It's that simple.

It takes two to argue, and when one person changes their approach, the other person has no choice but to follow suit.

When you begin to ask questions, you show the other person that you care about the "why" of their opinion. What led them to their conclusion? What factors are they considering that you possibly have not? You open yourself up to their ideas when you ask questions, and your colleague will see that even though you disagree, you are genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.

In turn, they will mirror your behavior and may be more likely to start asking you questions about your position, as well. When you get back into a rhythm of question and answer, you've successfully circumvented a destructive argument.

Disagree From An "Adult" Perspective

The theory of Transactional Analysis dives deeper into the ways in which our interactions with other people can devolve, and the ways in which we, as individuals can adjust our own reactions to "right the ship." According to the theory, our personalities or "egos" are made up of three unique sides: Child, Parent and Adult. Which two ego states do you think are most at odds? If you guessed Child and Parent, you're right. Most arguments occur when people are in one of those two states. In the Parent state you will find yourself acting as an authoritarian. The Child state shows itself in the form of emotional, knee-jerk responses. Adults may disagree sometimes, but this often spurs a productive debate to reach an end decision.

The ideal ego state for leaders, especially in a disagreement, is the Adult state, where we take in information, process it, and use it to influence our actions. Moving between states requires a great deal of self-awareness, but if you find yourself in a disagreement that is heading toward an argument, immediately shift into question mode. This shuts down the "right vs. wrong" tone of the conversation. When you make that shift, you're moving into the Adult state and your colleague will quickly rise up to meet you in their own Adult state.

Arguments are a fact of life. However, when they occur between colleagues, they can be especially destructive to morale and productivity. By remaining self-aware in any disagreement, you can quickly refocus a potential argument by shifting the tone of the conversation from aggressive to inquisitive.


Larry Hart

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