How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground
By Maureen McCann.
It’s probably an understatement to say that in the latter part of this decade, the media has been bombarding us daily with polarizing politics. Before you know it we’re picking sides on issues while thinking that “the other guy” is clueless about what’s really at stake. Media, and how we absorb and react to it, has a direct link to our view of the world and our interactions with the people in our lives.
As career practitioners, we undoubtedly share the desire for everyone to be happy at work, but what about those who see their job as just a job? Are they actually “wrong” to view it as nothing more than a means to an end?
People who show up to work every day not caring about their employer or co-workers may be fine with their own negative attitudes, but these individuals can really create tension and disagreement with their more conscientious colleagues.
Hold on a second! Daily conflict doesn’t have to be part of a normal workday.
Read on – and watch Julia Dhar’s 15-minute TED Talk – to learn about a productive way to approach disagreements without resorting to accusations and put-downs.
She says,“…debate requires we engage with conflicting ideas directly, respectfully, face-to-face.” So, whether it is at work, online, or with friends and family, it’s best to deal with conflict head-on.
Here is her recipe for engaging in successful, productive disagreements.
Separate the idea from the person.
Julia observes that many people tend to get very attached to their own ideas. It may feel easier to attack the person holding opposing ideas than debate the substance of the ideas themselves. In order to disagree productively, we should “separate ideas from identity and be genuinely open to persuasion.”
Find the sliver of common ground and invite others to it.
“…the way you reach people is by finding common ground.”
While debate is healthy and encouraged, Julia suggests we are much better served to agree on a shared principle. She references this persuasive conversation between Mr. Fred Rogers and the U.S. congressional subcommittee on communications. Mr. Rogers was there to make a case for increased federal funding for public television programming. Initially, the subcommittee’s chairman was not having any of it. Watch how Mr. Rogers begins finding common ground.
Practice the skill of “intellectual humility.”
This practice helps us to be more objective and less defensive about our ideas. People who have intellectual humility are open to evaluating a broad range of evidence. Instead of being firmly attached to our own ideas, imagine embracing the opposing idea and having to defend it. This is similar to what members of a debate team do when they switch sides and argue a view regardless of their personal beliefs. If we truly embrace the humility of uncertainty, we should be able to ask ourselves – and provide a clear answer – to this question: “What is it that you have changed your mind about, and why?”
Pre-commit to the possibility of being wrong.
People who find themselves on opposing sides of an issue can engage in productive disagreement by taking the time to explain to each other what it would take to change their minds. Doing this well is all about having a good attitude, more than it is about the skill of debate. Once we’re able to start thinking and talking about what it would take to change our minds, we naturally begin to wonder why we were so stuck on our original viewpoints in the first place.
“Your only winning strategy is to engage with the best, clearest, least personal version of the idea.”
Watch Julia’s TED Talk: