You’re pitching a proposal that you’ve been working on for weeks to a group of your peers and managers at your organization. You’ve covered all your bases and feel like you have it down cold. You nail your presentation and the floor is open for questions and comment…and the first thing you hear is from a colleague who disagrees with your proposal and presents another option. Your first instinct may be to demonstrate why your proposal is the right one and why other options don’t stack up. However, the goal here should not be for you to be right – it should be to make the people you are trying to convince comfortable that you’ve presented the best option for the organization. If they feel there is tension between ideas, or between people, it doesn’t matter how spot on your analysis is – it may be overshadowed by a disagreement that has been exacerbated by one party’s need to be right.
Whether you’re presenting in front of a group, or having a one-on-one conversation, the easiest way to diffuse opposition to your idea is NOT to prove you’re right with logic and data and reason. It’s to acknowledge that there is value in differing points of view, and allow the opposing party to feel heard.
Next time you find yourself in a position where a colleague disagrees, try out this method and see how you do:
- Don’t respond with anger. Instead, smile and take a breath. And then ask them to elaborate on their idea. This question is critical – it takes the attention off of the conflict between their idea and yours and instead focuses it on the idea itself. It also shows the opposing party respect and curtesy.
- Listen to the option they are presenting – let them speak their peace.
- Confirm that you heard their option and give a note or two on why you agree with it, acknowledging its merit. You can always find a positive point of common ground, even if you may not agree with the idea as a whole. Here’s a sample response: “You know Jim, I think there’s a lot of merit with targeting that particular market. The current demographic is exactly what we’re looking for and their purchasing power is unquestioned. It’s a good option.”
- Calmly re-state your option, and look for ways to link the two ideas together. “I just think that given the competitive landscape, it will be less costly to break into this target market and establish ourselves. I think the market you suggested would be a great phase two.”
- Ask them what they think of your response. This gives them an opportunity to either (a) acknowledge the merit of your position or (b) continue to push back.
That’s it. Acknowledge it, and move on. You haven’t said their idea is bad. In fact, you’ve acknowledged the merit. You’re simply presenting a different option. Then, you solicited their feedback regarding the option to, again, show them you respect and value their point of view.
The tone you use in this exchange is critical – there is a huge difference between rolling your eyes and then responding and smiling and then responding, even if your response is exactly the same. The fact that someone has a different idea than you isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just different. If you approach it as a bad thing, that will come across in the exchange. This is the foundation of a collaborative process – a diverse set of ideas. By acknowledging merit in another idea, rather than immediately dismissing it in favor of the idea that you put forth, you’re supporting that collaborative process.
What happens if the person disagreeing with you continues to push back, trying to be right themselves? The steps outlined here are not perfect, since you can’t always account for how the other individual is going to respond. One-on-one, this can be easier to mitigate than if it happens in front of a group. Let them know that you appreciate their feedback (again, tone is critical!) and you think there is merit to their idea as well. Even if the tactic fails and they keep pushing, you’ve set yourself up to look like the reasonable one that welcomes other ideas, and they’ve set themselves up to look pretty close-minded. You can also use this as a learning opportunity regarding how to work with that specific individual – maybe you need to try another tactic to bring them on board with your idea earlier next time.
One last note: Just because you’ve spent a lot of time working on something doesn’t mean that you’ve thought of everything. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. The most successful organizations bring a wealth of ideas to the table. Disagreement is what true collaboration is built on. Keep an open mind when others are presenting ideas, and look for opportunities to blend them together to create a win-win.
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