In a nutshell: If you don’t see eye-to-eye with a colleague, be constructive, rely on facts, listen closely and leave emotion behind. 

The word “no” is powerful.

It’s blunt. It’s definite. It’s heavy.

But it’s also extremely unproductive. As a leader, “no” should not be your way of resolving conflict. There are two reasons behind this:

  • “No” doesn’t resolve anything. It just takes an argument off the table
  • Sometimes conflict is a good thing, if you handle it properly

Here are some methods for navigating a disagreement without resorting to saying “no” — and why sometimes you need a little friction to reach a happy conclusion.

Learn to Leverage Conflict

Have you ever seen the television shows from the 1950s and 1960s? Programs like “The Andy Griffith Show”and “Leave it to Beaver,”where the characters faced conflicts like, “Who stole the pie from granny’s windowsill?” and “How can we stop the neighbor’s dog from digging holes in our yard?”

Episodes would end with the characters putting aside their differences, adopting new points of view, and coexisting happily. It was pure. It was wholesome.

And if you model your business like this, you’re doomed.

Professionals don’t like to talk about it, but in many contexts, conflict is good for an organization. Without it, you create something called groupthink – defined by Psychology Today as a situation in which “a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation.”

Without a little pushback, every idea seems like a great idea … even the ones that drain the company of its resources, morale and direction.

How do you avoid this?

Create Constructive Conflict

Putting constructive conflict into practice requires being considerate of the other party’s feelings.

Psychology Today explored the work of relationship expert John Gottman. Gottman said that problems between people don’t always need to be solved, because sometimes they’re simply unsolvable and there might be tremendous value in discussing (instead of hastily resolving) the problem.

Gottman suggested it was more important to, “… establish a dialogue … that communicate[s] acceptance of the partner.”

So, first, accept the other party and their position on the issue.

The next step is where things can get a little contentious. You need to disagree.

Carefully Frame Your Disagreement

Here’s the rule of thumb when it comes to disagreeing – you’re disagreeing with the idea, not the person who’s delivering it.

Magnetic Speaking, a California-based communication training firm, pointed out that it’s preferable to say what you’re saying is wrong instead of you are wrong.  “I know these might sound the same, but to the person receiving this disagreement, they don’t,” according to the company’s blog. You are wrong is personal. What you’re saying is wrong is less so.

Before you attack the argument, you have to make sure you understand it.

Listen First and Speak Second

You can’t deconstruct an argument if you don’t understand the argument. So, the next time you feel inclined to disagree, give the other party an extra 60 seconds (or more) to get their point across.

Seriously, stay completely silent. Consider this quote from Peter Bregman’s book If You Want People to Listen, Stop Talking: “Let [the other party] speak into the silence and listen for the truth behind their words.”

Focus Your Response Around Facts

Once you’ve absorbed the opposing argument (and you still disagree), here’s the most effective thing you can do to create constructive conflict: Leave your opinion out of it.

Your rebuttal needs to be totally fact-driven. Leave out the, “I think …” or “I feel like …” qualifiers. Speak only in concrete, objective truths.

And if you can’t find any facts with which to argue, then you either need to spend more time thinking about why you oppose the other party’s viewpoint, or realize that you might’ve been the one arguing with your emotions instead of your reason.

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