“MOM! Is the 4th of July in March?” When I heard that it took me a second to fully consider the question and another second to comprehend the fact that it was a serious question. A battle of epic proportions raged in my head while I tried to maintain composure and repress an eruption of laughter. I wanted to avoid taking sides and hurting feelings as this question had been the cause of a hotly contested argument between sisters. Clearly, sometimes emotions get in the way of reason.
These girls were definitely old enough to know the difference between March and July. This disagreement was more about the fight than about the question itself. This was serious and personal—please don’t ask me to explain how or why. It was also very emotionally charged. For all the drama that the 4th-of-July-in-March argument was, one thing it was definitely NOT was productive.
However, I’m here to tell you that many times disagreements can be extremely productive! I am also here to let you in on the secret that knowing this and being able to use it in your professional life can be a huge advantage. This is a skill and, like any other type of skill, it takes practice. Before you practice, let me help you understand the ground rules…
Forget the “baggage”
Leave behind the “baggage,” or the negative connotations, connected to the words “argument” and “disagreement.” These can no longer be “fights” or “quarrels” in your mind. There will be no fisticuffs! The difference here is the emotion attached to the word. Forget it! Rethink these words for what they should be in the workplace—professionals stating their opinions and the factual basis for them.
No cry babies
The issue is not about you versus the other guy. Don’t make it personal. The quickest way to ruin a productive discussion is to bring up personal faults or mistakes. This only leads to defensiveness. Once people are defensive there is no progress; no one is getting anywhere.
Making an argument personal immediately brings emotion into the situation. People easily feel threatened. If a personal comment is made toward you, do not justify it with an emotional response. Don’t jump in and try to make them feel just as awful as they made you feel. Take a few deep breaths and deal only with the facts of the issue. The goal is to be heard, not to make anyone cry.
Fact vs. opinion
Differences of opinion are great! When they are discussed, along with the facts they are based on, they can open people up to new perspectives. When diverse facts, opinions, and conclusions are considered the result is more educated and informed decisions.
Do your homework. Study the facts, form an opinion, and don’t be afraid to speak up and share it!
Disagreements often go unresolved. This is beneficial because in these cases decisions can ultimately be chosen from 2 or more differing positions. Strategically, it’s always nice to have a variety of options. Don’t worry if your position isn’t the chosen path. The important thing is that you are heard and your thoughts are considered. We are all adults, and we should have recognized long ago that we can’t always get our way.
Yes, disagreements at work are much different than fighting about what month the 4th of July is in but we can learn a lot about what NOT to do from that example. Take the emotion out of the argument, do your homework and fact checking, let your opinion be heard and back it up with facts, support whatever decision is made. Work on these skills, and they will help you and the team you work with make strategic and informed decisions—most likely much more complex than figuring out that the 4th of July is most definitely NOT in March.