Disagree Productively at Work

If you’re looking for signs that a married couple is about to split, “not talking” is a better indicator than “fighting a lot.” The same is true at work. Disagreements can actually be productive, whereas fear of conflict and a “culture of silence” can eat away at your company.

Unfortunately, says Shane Snow, author of Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart, most of us don’t disagree productively. Busy trying to “win”, we ignore logic and evidence that gets in our way. However, he contends, we can change this dynamic, exchange diverse ideas, and argue for and against the merits of those ideas, by training people to adopt key habits:

  • Remember you’re all on the same team. Because you have shared goals, all viewpoints in service of those goals are welcome.
  • There are no “winners”—reward people for moving the group forward rather than being “right.”
  • Assume everyone’s intentions are good.
  • No one loses face for changing their mind.
  • Listen to and respect every idea. Concede when others have good points.
  • Be curious.

Even bad ideas can be useful, and they can engender new and better ideas. Says Snow, “It’s important for everyone involved in a discourse…to exemplify these habits. But leaders (or whoever has the most power in the room) should be the first to hold themselves accountable to them.”

From the Glasers