Over a week ago, we discussed how effective leaders should encourage or at least make room for disagreement as part of the decision making process. But, what about being on the other end? If you should disagree with a decision or corporate direction, how should you register your disagreement? What, if any, are the rules of engagement?
Before jumping into how to disagree constructively, I'd like to say that it isn't necessarily virtuous or loving to simply "tow the line" when you're not in agreement. If someone is possibly making a grave mistake, choosing not to advise or warn them because we'd rather "keep the peace" is not loving. It could reveal what the Bible calls the "fear of man" which is a sinful response and a topic for another post altogether.
How do you agreeably disagree? Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind -
1. Disagree Charitably. Remember the adage pertaining to Christian disputes (attributed to Augustine) : "in essentials - unity; in non-essentials - liberty; in all things - charity". When we're in the midst of disagreement and eager to make our point, it's easy to forget to treat each other with love and kindness. I know that I can often become impatient or intolerant. I find reading 1 Corinthians 13 is a helpful antidote for my uncharitable disposition.
2. Disagree Humbly. As I've reminded my children (and myself) from time to time - we were wrong on the most important issue in human history. We were born into rebellion against God - we were on the wrong side. And on the wrong side we would have stayed except for the mercy of God. With that in view, perhaps we should enter into disputes at least aware of the possibility we might be wrong. It isn't sinful to be confident about your position. Just be aware that you're not always right and might not be right this time. Here's the good news - God gives grace to the humble.
3. Disagree on the Issue, Not with the Person. If you're disagreeing with a decision - keep the conversation on the issue. Resist the temptation to make it personal. Don't be drawn into making comments like "you're lowering the morale in the office" but rather "this decision is leading to lower morale".
4. Learn to Listen. When we're disagreeing, we're eager to make our point and we fail to listen to the other side. The Book of Proverbs is replete with passages on how the wise listen but fools don't.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15
5. Disagree Directly. Simply say what you mean. Do it gently, kindly and certainly lovingly but be direct. Sometimes I see individuals using humor to hint at a problem or insinuating a problem but yet not speaking plainly. This practice lacks honesty, is disingenuous and can lead to more conflicts. Speak openly...just do it with love (#1) and humbly (#2).
6. Be Inclusive and Work on the Issue Together. It's natural to take opposing, adversarial positions. However, at times it's possible that you can come to the problem in a fresh way and work on it together. If it seems difficult to imagine how you could get to that point, I'd suggest starting by using inclusive language - using "we"/"our"/"us" instead of "I"/"you"/"my"/"your".
I'm sure that there's more to be said on this topic but this will do for now.
Do you have additional thoughts or advice on how to disagree constructively? Please share them with us.