Resolving Disagreement

Disagreement can sap time, energy, and good will. Here’s how to sort out disagreement peacefully and find a working solution.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #269

Find the Source of Disagreement

Disagreement happens for one of two reasons: you disagree about end goals, or you disagree about the means to get there. Have the discussion. Say, “Let’s check in and find out where we disagree. What’s the goal we’re trying to reach?” Find out if your goals agree or not.

Bernice’s goal is “to have sweet-smelling tables.” Kaitlin’s goal is “to keep this wedding from bankrupting Bernice.” This is a clear goal disagreement.

Now ask “why?” for each goal. Keep asking “why?” until you find a common goal. Bernice wants “sweet-smelling table.” Why? “So I have a wedding with beautiful memories for years to come.” Kaitlin wants an affordable wedding. Why? “So Bernice can remember this wedding as a beautiful memory, not as the event that put her into bankruptcy.” We only had to ask “Why?” once and we have a common goal: to make this a wedding Bernice will remember fondly in terms of smell and budget.

See Also: How to Tell Someone They Are Wrong

Find Disagreements Over Means

Sometimes goals are in alignment, but how to reach them may be different. Bernice and Kaitlin agree the reception should be held in a beautiful location. But they disagree on how to reach that goal. Bernice wants to use a nearby ski lodge, built by an eccentric industrialist and accessible only by hot air balloon. Kaitlin is suggesting a country club, accessible by walking, car, public transportation, bicycle, and pogo stick.

When there’s disagreement over means, it’s usually because you each have different ideas about which means is most likely to reach your goal. Or, you may be considering additional goals that haven’t been stated, yet.

Ask the other person, “Why don’t you think my ‘means’ will be as effective as yours?” Note that since you’re the best and you’re mature, emotionally intelligent, and anti-fragile, you’re defusing defensiveness by having them poke holes in your plans, rather than the other way around. Listen carefully to the answer and notice whether you have different beliefs about effectiveness, or whether new goals are coming out.

When Bernice asks Kaitlin, “Why won’t the ski lodge be as effective as the country club in being beautiful?” Kaitlin responds “Oh, it will be just as beautiful! But your grandmother is in a wheelchair and won’t be able to travel in a hot air balloon.” Kaitlin is agreeing that both the lodge and the club will reach the goal of a beautiful reception, but wheelchair accessibility is a hidden goal that hadn’t come out until now.

See Also: Gaining Buy-In

The thought of her grandmother being unable to attend the wedding so instantly reached Bernice’s heart that she blubbering agreed to the country club location, apologizing profusely for her thoughtlessness.

As you might want to consider, too. When you’ve resolved a disagreement, if at any point in the process you yelled or behaved too emotionally, apologize. It doesn’t matter if you were right or wrong; this is about repairing the emotional part of the relationship. Say “I’m sorry I yelled. I’ll try to do better next time.” And since you’re the best, you will.

Disagreements can be awkward, especially with someone who doesn’t realize you’re the best, yet. Stop and breathe. Then find out whether you disagree over goals or means. Find your common goal, and from there, re-examine your means to find the one most likely to succeed, taking into account as many important factors as possible. Then apologize if you misbehaved at any point during the process. They’ll say “That’s OK. I understand. You’re the best.” ... At last, they see the truth.

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!

Two Women image from Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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