You must admit, those four words can be pretty unsettling. The notion that someone might challenge our opinion, our position or our point of view can quicken our pulse and make us recoil or recede from a conversation.

To be able to have a meaningful conversation with anyone about anything important, you have to risk sharing potentially unpopular points of view – you have to risk offending someone. To be clear, I am not talking about being recklessly provocative. I am talking about the honest exchange of opposing ideas. Often, it’s the tussle between competing ideas that leads us to those centerpieces of communication: truth, clarity and understanding.

Modeling a better ability to disagree

As communications professionals, we are merchants in the marketplace of ideas. We’re supposed to be very good at articulating and exchanging ideas – probably better than most. Our ability to look at issues through the eyes of multiple audiences equips us to model a heathier form of discourse, dialogue and idea exchange, and we only stand to benefit, both personally and professionally.

You may have your own mechanisms for handling disagreement and difficult conversations. Here are some of the approaches I try to take.

  • Ask “why” and be genuinely interested – If someone shares a view or position that you disagree with, ask them to explain in more detail before sharing your own. Allow their idea to live and breathe. It’s likely they did not arrive at their position on a whim and, importantly, it helps dignify them before you engage. You may even learn something from them that advances your own perspective.
  • Assume you could be wrong – When it comes to our deeper convictions, it can be very easy to be entrenched. It’s always a healthy exercise to assume that you could be wrong. It doesn’t mean that you are. But stress testing our own beliefs against the views of others is a healthy exercise on the path toward truth.
  • Separate the issue from the person – A lot of passion accompanies our deeper convictions, and it’s far easier (and tempting) to target the person with those emotions than the issue itself. That is almost always a dead end. Directing that passion toward the issue allows each party to examine it from multiple perspectives and move forward together.
  • Be OK living with some level of continual disagreement – We should be able to have healthy, robust discussions on sensitive issues, and then, while not settling everything, but be able to move forward cordially. That is a sign of communication maturity.
  • Toughen up – We can’t be afraid of ideas even if they are sharply different than our own. Take an ideological challenge as an invitation to dialogue. Assume goodwill in others, give them the benefit of the doubt and be courageous enough to honestly share your own point of view.

This is starting to sound a little like one of our Padilla beliefs, “Work Brave.”

Warmer weather is on the way, and that means we’ll get to enjoy more social gatherings. As the saying goes, “avoid religion and politics” as topics of conversation. But I wonder how different, more beneficial and constructive those conversations (and relationships) would be if we all modeled some of these approaches.

And if you disagree with any of this, I’d welcome the conversation!

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