Imagine answering this question on any given issue. This is where positive change and engagement begins.
Whenever disagreement arises, perhaps in a meeting or coffee-room discussion, many are inclined to head for the exit. When someone disagrees with us, it can be hard to stay open to what they are saying. People often feel unable to find common ground in conversations today.
Why is this? In her TED talk from 2018, Julia Dhar says, “One of the reasons it is so hard to disagree productively is because we become attached to our ideas. We start to believe that we own them and that by extension, they own us.” We start to cherish them as part of our identity. Another reason is that we fear disagreement will lead to personal attacks or some other relationship difficulty. And most fundamentally, we might feel that our point of view is fixed, ignoring the fact that how we feel can change radically from moment to moment. So how can we move beyond misunderstanding toward conversation that allows for a productive exchange of ideas? How can we find common the ground required to improve an idea or a plan?
Here are four things you can do:
- Avoid zero-sum games. Instead of attacking another person to win a disagreement, remember that the objective is for everyone to win.
- Find common ground. According to Dhar, the most skilled debaters can find a common ground with their opponents, and from there they work together toward a persuasive solution.
- Practice advocating for another perspective. Dhar states, “this exercise flips a kind of cognitive switch. The suspicions that you hold about people who espouse beliefs that you don’t have, starts to evaporate. Because you can imagine yourself stepping into those shoes.”
- Embrace uncertainty. Be open to humility and the possibility of being wrong. As Dhar says, “…it’s that exact humility that makes us better decision-makers. “
When disagreements occur, it’s possible to move beyond the personal and advance the conversation when we apply the right kind of engagement. With practice and remaining open, we can create solutions to even the most seemingly insurmountable problems.