Fortune paper reading: The purpose of argument, should not be victory, but progress.

One of my long-time mediation clients loves to argue and tease me about “just wanting everyone to agree about everything.” He usually begins the good-natured ribbing right about the time I offer-up an “Is it possible…” or “What if…” question, which is of course geared toward eventually reaching agreement.

This client absolutely enjoys a hearty debate, and loves to bait some disagreement. He leans way back in his chair, gets a sarcastic little smirk on his face and says “I know, I know, you just want everyone to get along, join hands, and sing Kumbaya.”  Then, in his very serious tone, he proceeds to tell me about the virtues of disagreement and facing opposition.  At this point, because we have been through this dozens of times, I’m usually laughing-out-loud and I remind him “I’m a mediator, not Pollyanna! I’m the one whose tag line is Conflict = Opportunity!”  Then he smiles – pleased with himself for getting a little reaction out of me- and we get back to the business at hand.

The truth is, my client is right.  If we agree about everything we never make any progress.  Think about it… Because of disagreement and challenging the status quo, the world is no longer flat. Here’s another good one – because of disagreement, we have the United States of America!  Indeed, when handled well, conflict equals opportunity.

Disagreement often precedes discoveries and inventions, as well as more effective methods and processes. Disagreement has launched businesses, advanced educations, and saved lives. Interestingly, when disagreement is addressed productively, it transforms our most ardent differences into our most fabulous and treasured agreements!

What do you think about that?  Disagreement, when addressed productively, has the power to result in ground-breaking agreement.  Did you pick up on the catch here? When addressed productively.

During this (seemingly endless) season of overwhelming and divisive disagreement, please allow me to share 3 tips to help you productively address conflict, and maybe even find enough common ground to turn your conflict into opportunity:

  1. Stay curious. Seek to understand. Uncover the “why’s” and “why-not’s”. Is it possible there is something you don’t know or fully understand? What if there is another option you haven’t yet considered?
  2. Identify what you really want. This requires peeling the proverbial onion. As a mediator and facilitator, I have learned “what you really want” is often quite close to what the other “really wants”. The map for getting there may differ, but the over-arching goals are surprisingly similar.  Discuss and collaborate from a place of your big-picture goals v. petty differences.
  3. Practice the Golden Rule. Disagreement stems from different experiences, understandings, and beliefs. Please, avoid using disagreement as a license to degrade, disrespect or harm.  Sustainable agreements and advancements are never derived through bullying.

These three simple actions have the power to move individuals and groups forward in significant ways.  Knowing what you really want; staying open to new information, discussions, and collaboration; and expressing yourself with a demeanor of professionalism and respect, opens the doors to unprecedented solutions and resolutions!

So, this mediator says “Go ahead and disagree!” Even a conflict resolution specialist doesn’t want you to blindly agree to anything or anyone. I do, however, encourage you to take a cue from my genius client and find pleasure in seeking objective reasons to agree.

Call or email us today to learn more about turning conflict into opportunity.

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