Do we *need* to disagree? Or rather acknowledge our different perspectives?


The thirst for new ideas is a beautiful thing!

In the process of unearthing new ideas, though, we sometimes lose the plot a bit.

One of the (relatively) recent sources of innovations is to look into failures and celebrating failures through failure fairs and the likes etc. Great idea indeed if you pitch this well – although I seem to recall from the excellent Leaders in learning podcast series some dissonant experiences on fail fairs too, along the lines of ‘you need to set them up well’ etc. or they amount to a contest of platitudes. But granted: there is something interesting about failing.

The point, however, is that: it’s not about the failing, it’s about the learning. Failing as such is not great. But the learning that comes from failing can be extremely powerful.

Ditto with disagreements.

I recently read the latest newsletter of the ever excellent David Gurteen knowledge letter. And one of the links grabbed my attention:

Episode 1, How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments – BBC Radio 4 https://buff.ly/2wfGR3a #ConversationalLeadership

I went on to check the link – and listen to all five episodes of this podcast. Over the series, the author really made her point more clearly and convincingly that disagreements (like failures) can be a rich source of insights and ideas.

But when I stumbled upon the link first, and the first episode of the series, I couldn’t help but feel awkward at the thought of disagreements.

409 - Conflict (Credits: GirlieMac)

When disagreement degenerates into conflict (Credits: GirlieMac)

Disagreements are not the end goal.

What is the end goal, for collaboration etc. to work, is for people to disclose their opinion, their true identity, their feelings, their half-baked ideas, and to struggle through the process to also understand each other and progressively emerge with shared meaning (something which, incidentally, the same David Gurteen recently covered in his blook ‘Conversational leadership’).

Disagreement is, at best, an abrasive way of bringing some good ideas to the fore. But in terms of group development it’s far from being a panacea.

  • Don’t most disagreements end up rather sharpening our arguments than our ideas?
  • Does an argument bring the best feelings to the foreground?
  • Is it the most effective technique (so, purely from a technical point of view) to help the entire group find constructive ways to collaborate, in the longer run?
  • Does disagreement help build confidence among group members, and does it contribute to a group ‘gelling’? In and of itself?

I’m not so sure.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that disagreement is a) unavoidable, b) potentially extremely useful, c) potentially really destructive too and d) best facilitated, so that it remains a disagreement only for ever so long as it needs, and it helps move towards a renewed understanding of views and positions again – a prelude to constructive group co-creation and group (collaboration) development.

Disagreement is not the goal. It’s one of the ugly ‘necessary evils’ in a group’s life, every now and then. But it’s not the holy grail, the end destination.

Don’t let your thirst for new, sexy ideas distract you from the longer game.

And don’t you dare disagreeing with me grrrrr ;p

Check the BBC series ‘How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments

Sunbeam disagreement (Credits: Jon Hritz)

Sunbeam disagreement (Credits: Jon Hritz)

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