The Newsletter

Issue no. 40|24 May, 2011

Acrimony and Disagreement

So, I’m reading another book on another flight to another Effective Manager/ Effective Communications Conference. A business meeting is being described: “the debate was acrimonious, but necessary.” It bothered me.

Maybe the author didn’t mean that the argument was, “bitter and sharp in tone” or, “rancorous”. But I suspect he did, and I’m guessing it’s because, like so many of us, he equates a, “good debate” with, “forcefully stated opinions” and, “better outcomes.”

But disagreement and rancor aren’t joined at the hip. Vigorous belief in a point of view and raised voices are not inextricably linked. Sharpness in tone and clarity of mind don’t necessarily go together.

Let’s be careful not to equate (the High D and High I’s) loudness and interruptions with strength of conviction. Remember, when you’re running a meeting: you can have BOTH professional civility and clear disagreement.

I’m not suggesting here that I want everyone to get along, even if that means agreeing to any old idea. Far from it: as Mike and I have shared before, we’ve both been in our share of knock-down, drag-out fights professionally. But that doesn’t mean the managers and executives we were working with (and yes, arguing with) were always yelling. Plenty of them occurred without rancor.

Here’s a technique that Mike uses brilliantly that I have found significantly reduces the chances for hurt feelings and potential escalations in pre-decision discussions:

Before you state YOUR position, say, “here’s what I hear you saying,” or, “let me restate what I think I heard and see if I have it right.” Then, try to paraphrase what you just heard.

This is what I call a buffer response. Too many arguments, acrimonious debates, and angry exchanges occur because of the speed of someone’s response (largely emotional, but that’s for another day), and the first person’s belief that they weren’t heard, let alone listened to.

Try a buffer response next time you feel the acrimony creeping up on a meeting. When you do, you’ll discover you’ll have to listen. But I didn’t want to tell you to do THAT. ;-)

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