How to disagree and keep your duos going strong

How to disagree and keep your duos going strong

Posted on Jun 18, 2014 | Tags: , | No Comments

difficult conversations: how to discuss what matters mostWherever there are passionate, dedicated people working together on a team — with their own strengths and working styles and nerve-working buttons — there are bound to be disagreements. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Conflict is healthy for a team as long as it gets addressed, and as long as team members approach the situation in the spirit of openness and empathy.

Problems arise when issues linger unacknowledged, and folks are left clinging to a sense of grievance or righteousness without trying to understand the other side. That’s when your duos suffer. And the whole team suffers as a result.

To keep your negative feelings from spiraling, it’s important to learn to separate flaring tempers and hurt feelings from the basic facts of what happened, and then to effectively navigate a conversation about how to repair the broken trust. This is why we love Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. This duo-saving guide offers a step-by-step primer for talking out problems in the workplace. At the heart of the book is the idea that people need to make a mental shift from “difficult conversations,” in which you focus on right and wrong, to “learning conversations,” in which you listen with empathy and stay genuinely open to absorbing the other person’s point of view.

To have a productive learning conversation, the authors suggest looking at three components.

Part I: What happened?

Before you can agree on how to fix things, you need to understand the other person’s version of what happened. Often, disagreements stem from drawing incorrect assumptions about someone’s intentions or actions — and that leads to a blame game where all you can see is what the person did wrong. You get stuck in judgment mode, and you can’t move forward.

Stone, Patton and Heen say to find out what really happened — not just what you think happened — you need to shift your inner voice:

 Avoid the “difficult conversation” mindset:

“Whose story is right and whose is wrong? It’s either/or.”
“They meant to have this impact on me.”
“This is their fault.”

Embrace the “learning conversation” mindset:

“I wonder why we see things differently?”
“I don’t like the impact they’re having on me; I wonder what they were intending?”
“We’ve both contributed to this result. Let’s identify contributions and figure out how to fix this.”

Part II: How does it make you feel?

A learning conversation also requires honesty about how both of you are really feeling. That’s not always easy. Too often, people are afraid to be vulnerable. So, they bury their feelings and paper over the conflict — all the while nursing continued resentment. Or sometimes people do express their emotions, but they don’t allow room for the other person’s emotions too.

To make sure both of you have a chance to say what you feel, the authors suggest this reframing:

Avoid the “difficult conversation” mindset:

“My feelings are their fault, and I should either let them have it or keep quiet (since it probably won’t do any good).”

Embrace the “learning conversation” mindset:

“My feelings say something about me and something about their actions. I can share my feelings without blame, and acknowledge theirs with empathy, without saying that their story is right.”

Part III: How does this conversation threaten your ideas about your identity?

The hardest, most painful part of a disagreement is how it can bring up fears about your competency and sense of self-worth. “The bigger the gap between what we hope is true and what we fear is true, the easier it is for us to lose our balance,” say Stone, Patton, and Heen. When a problem shines a spotlight on that gap and we start to feel unsafe or unwanted, it’s easy to deny the other point of view or simply to withdraw.

Before addressing a disagreement within a duo, it’s important to be aware of your identity hot buttons and remember that the other person probably didn’t mean to push them. And you need to be prepared to admit mistakes, even when those mistakes don’t square with your self-image.

Avoid the “difficult conversation” mindset:

“They are attacking my identity unfairly! I am not____!”

Embrace the “learning conversation” mindset:

“Realistically, some part of what they’re saying makes painful sense. What am I really afraid of here? How can their story have validity without negating who I am, and vice versa for them?”

Finally, as you go into any learning conversation, work hard to stay present, open, and vulnerable. If it seems like you’re being self-protective and withdrawn, the conversation is unlikely to produce meaningful results. And don’t go in with a fixed idea of how the conversation should unfold. A great duo will help you find what you can’t see on your own — and that applies even in a conflict.

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