Around the Cooler
Is there such a thing as a good argument? It may not come naturally for many of us, but what writer Buster Benson calls “productive disagreement” can be learned and harnessed to make real change—both within ourselves and in our relationships with others. Good arguments encourage kindness, open-mindedness, and humility. Follow these tips from Benson and collaboration experts Francesca Gino and Whitney Johnson to make discussions at the workplace—and in every other aspect of life—healthier, less stressful, and more enjoyable as well as more constructive and beneficial.
Practice engaging in civil dialogue by organizing safe-space discussions on controversial topics. Though this may not work in every setting, some corporations have found success in fostering this type of interaction among team members. You can find resources to help through organizations such as FeelReal (FeelReal.net) or Unity Lab (UnityLab.co).
2. Qualify Claims
Make room for others in your conversations by hedging your assertions (“This approach might work for some people”) rather than claiming omniscient knowledge. Admitting freely what you do not know or are uncertain about can provide opportunities to highlight where both parties agree and encourage building on common ground.
3. Represent Yourself
Avoid speaking for others (“You think/do this because . . .”); instead, stick with who you know: you. Speak for yourself (“I feel . . .” or “I think . . .” ) and invite others to approach the conversation in the same way. This will make conversations more welcoming and safe. This approach will also make others feel respected and honored.
4. Acknowledge Opposing Ideas
Show your interlocutor that you are truly listening by acknowledging their perspective, and thank them for sharing their thoughts. Showing gratitude—while also articulating your own contributions in positive terms—will level up the quality and impact of the conversation.
5. Prevent Unhealthy Friction
Recognize that people tend to escalate conflict when they feel their rights (e.g., choice, security, dignity) are threatened. Focus on disarming that response by connecting with and investing in others before arguments begin. Cultivate relatedness by creating shared experiences and establishing similar goals.
6. Redefine Goals
Aim to build knowledge when entering a potentially heated discussion in the workplace—or in any other aspect of your life—rather than trying to eliminate all opposition or prove that you are right. Collaborative meaning-making in the face of disagreement is a hallmark of effective teamwork; it allows everyone autonomy and can lead to innovation.
Written by Clarissa McIntire