Help your team buy into these four keys to resolving inevitable disagreements

By JJ Rosen June 28, 2023
resolving inevitable disagreements

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

“Don’t raise your voice to improve your argument.” — Desmond Tutu

Summer always brings back a fond memory of going to see my first Major League Baseball game with my grandfather when I was 7 years old.

We made the trek from Nashville to Atlanta to see the Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals.  I kept my glove on the entire way just to be prepared to catch any foul ball that might come my way.

It was at the top of the fourth inning when something strange happened.

The umpire called one of the St. Louis players out at home plate.  It took only a few seconds for the Cardinals manager to come running out of the dugout yelling at the top of his lungs at the ump. And then it took only a few seconds for the umpire to throw the manager out of the game.

The call stood, the crowd cheered, and the teams played on.

My grandfather shook his head and said, “It’s never a good idea to yell at anyone.  It never works.”

My grandfather was right.

Whether you yell at a baseball umpire, a basketball referee, or a colleague, raising your voice to make a point is a sure-fire way to make things worse.

This is especially true in the workplace.

Differences of opinions, mistakes, missed deadlines, office politics, personality conflicts—no matter how great your workplace culture is, disagreements at work are impossible to completely avoid.

I have found that the best approach is to aim to turn any of these day-to-day emotional disagreements into “productive disagreements” that not only help everyone involved but help the company as a whole.

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What is a “productive disagreement?”

Unlike the disagreement between the baseball manager and the umpire, productive disagreements first and foremost are handled with respect.  This means no yelling, listening, and having a willingness to move on even if things don’t go your way.

In a productive disagreement, the focus is not about pride or proving someone wrong.  It’s solution oriented.

So, how do you make a disagreement a productive one?

There are four key elements that are needed:

  1. Respectful communication. Refrain from personal attacks and an angry tone (no yelling.)
  2. Active listening. It sounds simple but when emotions run high, it’s easier said than done.
  3. Empathy. Without empathy productive disagreements have no chance.  The idea is to understand the opposing viewpoint with a mindset that you could be wrong.
  4. A willingness to move on. When no compromise can be found, it’s best to accept the outcome and focus on what’s next.

The challenge in getting to productive disagreements versus just plain old arguments is that everyone must buy in. Everyone at the table must adopt the mindset, or just like at my first big league baseball game, differences of opinion will hurt the entire team.

This is especially true for the leadership team—if they can set the tone, it will pay dividends across an entire company.

Not only did the angry manager lose the argument, but his team lost the game. Looking back, learning a business lesson at a baseball game was almost as thrilling as catching a foul ball.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville custom software development firm and IT support company. Visit Atiba.com for more info.

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