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July 2016
Communication at Work

Open Opinion, Open CommunicationPatti Lind

A few months ago, someone mentioned to me that their group gets along fine until someone disagrees. I started paying attention and noticed that once people have formed an opinion, they don't particularly want to be disagreed with — even very nice, thoughtful people. Leaders, in particular, seem to feel the need to demonstrate their leadership by having an answer to any concern rather than having a little curiosity.

Most of us would like to think that we are open to a diversity of thought and appreciate people voicing their opinions. But, I'm not so sure that our good opinion of ourselves matches the reality of our actions. About 90% of the time, I noticed that the first reaction is usually to justify, not listen. This is the pattern I saw:
  • You must have misunderstood me. Let me say it a different way.
  • Hmmm, maybe there is another way to show you that I am right.
  • Let me tell you why you are off-base.
  • Let's just agree to disagree.

Usually the person with the alternative view gets "talked into silence." If emotions actively come into play it can become personal and can tear into relationships. In the work context, I frequently intervene when someone has slipped into justification instead of listening. Given a second chance to listen almost always reveals new and valuable information. In recent weeks, some of my clients realized they were actually in agreement, others found out that they had been misreading each other's intentions; all of them came up with a solution.

I get a lot of opportunities to be disagreed with because I'm someone who likes to talk and share my opinions. I wish I could say I'm an expert on this subject but I'm not. I can default to justifying once I've landed hard on an idea, too.
Here are some of my strategies:
  • When I experience a quick "tightening", I recognize it as a sign that I don't want to be disagreed with. Reminding myself that I want to be someone who can be disagreed with has been helpful.
  • Another self-talk phrase is I don't agree with this, but I don't need to get charged up about it.
  • If the stakes are low, I might jokingly say outloud … Actually, I just wanted to be told that my idea was brilliant. That seems to lighten the mood and it improves my ability to listen.
  • Most importantly, I consciously choose to stop talking and start asking questions. Could you give me an example of what you mean? Help me understand how that would work? "Is there anything else that you think would be helpful for me know?"
  • Occasionally I just admit that I am having a hard time listening at the moment. Then I circle back later to ask them to tell me what they were trying to say.

Recognizing your reaction, not taking disagreement personally and the ability to shift into listening are high level communication skills. When we can dedicate even a few extra minutes to hearing someone's diverse thoughts, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to learn valuable information that might broaden our thinking, generate more creative ideas and improve our relationships. We just have to get out of our own way. Colin Powell once said "Don't let your ego get too close to your position so that if your position gets shot down, your ego doesn't go with it". I think he had it right.
Talk with your team about this newsletter and what it feels like to have a different idea than what is being discussed. How difficult is it to get your alternative idea heard? Brainstorm ideas on how to encourage a greater diversity of thought in your discussions. A conversation like this might be helpful with someone you have a close relationship with. Sometimes we can have the greatest difficulty being disagreed with by those we feel closest to.

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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Patti Lind | pattilind.com | 503-318-4665



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