Opinions: Resistance, Acceptance, and Common Ground

We all want to be heard.  We all have our opinions.  And as we know all too well when there are differences of opinion the fuse can often be very short from ignition to explosion.  In business this can completely derail an otherwise productive meeting or project.  Worse yet, in our personal lives it can destroy families and life-long relationships which in turn can also impact work life or a business, especially if it is a family business.  Does this scenario sound familiar?

Why is it that everything is smooth sailing until someone interjects and doesn’t agree with someone else’s idea or opinion? You know exactly what happens, suddenly everyone starts squirming in their seat and feeling uncomfortable. Next, either some form of an argument breaks out or a self-appointed mediator will try to say something clever to diffuse the situation.  The problem with both of those responses is that nothing ever gets resolved.

What can you do? Find Common Ground…

One of the best ways to help prevent a show-stopping disagreement or to move positively through different opinions is finding common ground and/or goals. If you’re in a team meeting, lay the groundwork before the discussion even begins by getting the group to agree on a common goal. If everyone is clear on the common goal and purpose of a business many of the day-to-day arguments and disagreements will never happen in the first place.

If a differing opinion is expressed and you immediately sense a breeze of opposition in the room, halt the conversation and clarify what the goal of the meeting is, the purpose of why you are there.  Find some common ground.  Most people have a hard time participating in a discussion without feeling like they must convince everyone in the room of their opinion.  It is as if they are threatened by anyone’s else’s opinion other than their own.  But if you can get the group to acknowledge common ground there is a much higher chance that opinions will be received in the context of trying to find amicable solutions vs. opinion justification (right or wrong).

Focus on the Facts…

As much as possible, focus disagreements on the substance of the argument, not on the individual. Talking about facts and situations is relatively safe when it comes to disagreements – things will get really out of hand if they start to become personal attacks.

Be aware…

One trap group discussions can get caught in is the notion that everyone wants be heard.  The challenge is no one is hearing what the other participants are saying.  It’s an individual gratification party and any collaborative spirit is misplaced with people talking over each other trying to reinforce their agenda instead of the greater good of what’s at hand.  Before you go into that 2nd or 3rd rant ask yourself if you’re getting closer or further from the mutually agreed upon common goals?  Your answer will dictate your next step!   

Ultimately, whether you agree or disagree with other’s opinions make an effort to listen and allow all opinions to be heard.  You don’t have to agree with everything.  But as long as common ground is established and those in the conversation are in alignment with the overreaching goals and purpose of the meeting, project, company, etc. the likelihood of a productive authentic discussion should be the end result.  But it all starts with decreasing your resistance, allowing some acceptance, and establishing some common ground to build from. 

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel made this idea a key tenet of his management and leadership approach. He made it clear he expected his leaders and his teams at Intel to ‘Disagree and Commit‘ – essentially push for any possible disagreements, talk it through but ultimately have the leader make a decision that the entire team will commit to supporting. The disagreement is critical if you want people to buy-in to the decision. They don’t need consensus, but they do need and expect to be heard.

What about you?  What about your business? Does this scenario play out in your business?  How does your team handle it?  How do you handle it in personal conversations?  As always, we value your comments in the space below. 

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach