Are you having conflict and disagreement at work?

Are you having conflict and disagreement at work?
Then, follow the advice of the thought leader….and get off the keyboard!

A Japanese client from a well-known American-owned private equity firm in Tokyo recently worked on persuasion for my coaching efforts. We ended up analyzing a Ted Talk from Julia Dhar, a noted Australian speaker on debate, conflict, and persuasion. In her Ted Talk, “How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground,” she cites the work of Professor Juliana Schroeder at UC Berkeley.

Interestingly, the work there says that listening to another person’s voice has a humanizing effect on those with whom we have conflict or disagreement. Ms. Dhar says that means to step away from the keyboard and start conversing face to face as current conditions allow.

Just how practical then is this advice in the Age of Covid? Maybe more than we realize. While face-to-face communication is best, it is not always possible now or was it in the past. A good phone call may do the trick. We still have those. Voice mail is still a possibility, it’s a bit one-sided, but the warmth and richness of the voice is still there.

So, why has e-mail become the preferred method of the exchange of ideas? Well, for one, there is no chance to be interrupted! Secondly, some of us are better with the written word and not so sure about the live exchange of ideas, particularly with someone we disagree with. I tend to think that Professor Schroeder and Ms. Dhar are actually on to something. While Ms. Dhar suggests finding common ground when disagreeing or debating conflict, I agree that Professor Schroeder’s suggestion that hearing the voice of another is uniquely humanizing and may go a long way to warm the relationship.

From a coaching perspective, I’d add these items.

  • Establish neutral territory for the meeting, café, coffee place, or take it off-site for lunch or even takeout.
  • When meeting, ensure a firm handshake and eye contact are part of your demeanor
    and countenance.
  • Assure the other person or persons you want to listen to and then do so. No interruptions, truly listen, save questions till the end, seek clarification at the end also.
  • Paraphrase often: “So, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying…..(and put their idea, argument or concepts into your own words) If you got it right, they know you listened carefully, if you didn’t get it right, trust me, they will tell you!
  • Describe what is not negotiable and what you have flexibility on
  • Feel free to propose ideas that you think are viable, take notes if needed
  • Ask for time to sort through the new ideas but agree to follow up soon while creating a win-win for both parties.

We all have times when things could be going better with other workgroups or colleagues. For me, the biggest and most important step is to break the e-mail chain and get talking face to face. Use the power of your voice and humanness to defuse the present situation.

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