How to Fight Fair
I have at least one fight every day. OK, well, maybe "fight" is a little strong--but let's say that I have a disagreement every day.
That's OK: I'm a consultant, and part of my role is to challenge the status quo--and the status quo has a tendency to push back. But if those fights were lethal, I wouldn't have very many clients or have them for very long. So over the years, I have had to learn how to disagree.
It sometimes takes friction in order to get traction--and as organizations consider new ideas, initiatives, limited resources and escalating pressures, there are going to be disagreements.Even when you're the boss, you'll want to build consensus.
Here are seven of the techniques that I use when disagreeing to get traction, rather than just friction.
1. Find Common Ground
It's hard to build agreement when there are no points held in common. If you find yourself in a disagreement, then try to determine quickly what you are not fighting about.
Declare it out loud: "I think we both agree about this ..." Then get the other person to confirm it before you move on to the disagreement. When the discussion either gets heated or spins off topic, take the other person back to the common ground and re-establish what you do agree upon.
2. Concede Truth Everywhere You Find It
The person with whom you are speaking is going to say a mixture of things. Concede the points with which you agree. This creates an environment in which that person can also agree with your points. There are no guarantees that he or she will, but you have a better chance if you make the first move.
3. Acknowledge Emotion
When emotion enters into a conversation, then logic and facts are at risk. If the person is angry, disappointed or upset, you can't pretend that isn't a part of the conversation.
You can acknowledge the emotion and validate the person without conceding the entire issue. And by doing so, you may be able to reduce the emotional intensity and get the discussion back on solid ground.
4. Ask More Than You Tell
I have to avoid this one myself: Explaining your perspective won't make the other person agree.
I have this false belief that if the other person just understood my point of view then they would agree with it. This leads to long monologues and gains you little traction toward agreement.
If you ask more questions instead, you will get more answers with which you can agree, as well as a better understanding of what is driving that person's choices--and possibly an angle to achieve a compromise.
5. Appeal to Balance, Not Fairness
Fairness is a concept that seems to have a lot of emotional baggage, making it a risky term to use in a conversation. I find that I get more reasonable responses by appealing instead to "balance"--particularly if you're trying to get a more equitable sharing of resources or responsibilities--than by asking for things to be "fair."
6. Call Time Outs
When a disagreement has devolved so far that both parties are just repeating themselves, it's time for a break. You're not getting traction, and the two sides are just digging in harder. It's better to set aside the issue if possible for a day or two and then come back.
7. Abide by Some Ground Rules
Here is a quick list of ground rules for disagreements. This isn't about sensitivity training: If you break these rules, you risk dooming any eventual agreement.
- Avoid personal attacks.
- Use professional language.
- Stay on topic.
- Steer clear of threats.
- Don't say anything you can't take back
Disagreements of any size are a part of business communication. You have to navigate through those conversations in a way that gets to agreement in order to implement most things of scale.
Use these techniques and your chances increase that you will get traction, rather than just friction.