In the world of business, disagreements with peers and team members about the best course of action are inevitable. These disagreements can be productive, or they can turn negative and become relationship- and results-killers.
Here’s how to make sure your disagreements are productive:
- Make the necessary deposits. If you want to have productive arguments with your peers, your team and maybe even your clients, you need to have already made “deposits” toward those relationships. Unless and until your intentions are known, disagreements may feel personal and political. But if your intentions are known and your relationship is strong at the start, then arguments and disagreements can actually help you produce better results.
- Don’t make personal attacks. It bears repeating: If you want to have productive disagreements, you cannot turn them into personal attacks. Your argument needs to center on the best choice to produce the outcome over which you are arguing. Avoid making personal attacks against the other person. If she has made mistakes in the past, leave those mistakes in the past. Confine your disagreement to the matter at hand.
- Accept that others’ intentions are good. You cannot have a productive disagreement while also questioning the other person’s intentions. If his intentions are bad — if what he is arguing for is immoral or illegal, for example — you cannot have a productive disagreement. But if you’re arguing over the best course of action, then assume the other person wants the same outcome you do.
- Have a clean heart yourself. If you want other people to treat you as if your intentions are good, you too must have a clean heart. You cannot have a productive disagreement if what is really driving your argument is what you stand to gain. Assume others have good intentions, but also make sure your intentions are above reproach.
- Find a path you can agree on. And here’s the thing about productive disagreements: You don’t win by winning the argument. You win by discovering the best path forward and gaining agreement to pursue it. I’ve had relationships with partners who were willing to concede to the person with the strongest feelings. They valued the relationship as much as the outcome — and that is at the heart of a productive disagreement.
Remember, your goal in a productive disagreement isn’t to beat the other person but to choose the best path forward together.