The art of constructive disagreements: confidence, curiosity, courage, a peaceful heart and a smile

No matter how many conflict management courses you have taken or how many negotiation books you have read, you may still find yourself in confrontational situations where tools and tactics are not as effective as they promised to be. The real issue is in our mindset.

The key question to ask ourselves is: do we see disagreements and conflicts as time-wasting issues or as opportunities to learn from different perspectives? A related and relevant question is: what affects our mindset with respect to disagreements?

Many of us are willing to admit that “in theory” disagreements can be interesting and even exciting opportunities to learn and also to strengthen relationships. In practice, at the critical moment, things do not seem to go as smoothly as in the theory.

Typically, there are two main "pitfalls" at play:

PITFALL NUMBER ONE: The first pitfall is an EXCLUSIVE TASK ORIENTED MINDSET typically induced by a temporary partial blindness linked to stress, fatigue or high time- and peer-pressure.

Research shows that when we are overly focused on tasks, our brain actually “disables” the networks that preside curiosity towards others.

This explains why under strict deadlines we may easily risk to discount the importance of actively listening to disagreements and the we may not take the time to enquire and explore the concerns and doubts of others, thus missing the obvious opportunity to create a more sustainable alignment, identify innovative alternatives and strengthen both relationships and shared commitment.

PITFALL NUMBER TWO: The second pitfall is a PROTECTIVE MINDSET, induced by a risk-avoiding and over-rationalizing culture. In our traditional education, we have learnt that rationality leads us to “the truth”, but recent research indicates that we tend to use reasons and rationality only to prove our initial intuitions – and we often stop when we find enough evidence, without playing devil's advocate.

It is rationality itself that most often leads us to mistakenly think that here is an absolute truth; and that creates the defensive reaction that blocks our curiosity and closes our ears.

In our Western world, we are in era of transition: we still use some of the Human Rationality Modes of the last two centuries, like making decisions from a place of Fear and Protection; at the same time we are starting to appreciate the need and the benefits of the new Human Collaborative Modes, like making decisions based on Trust and Possibilities.

It might be very difficult to be open to trust and to consider alternative possibilities when operating within a complex bureaucratic organization with many layers protecting their right to be; it might take a lot of self-confidence, clarity and influential skills.  It might be easier to tackle disagreements with usual methods of avoiding or rationally resolving.

So how can we change our mindset and develop the ability to select those opportunities where we can invest in opening the dialogue and the competence to confidently breeze through the process of trusting, listening, exchanging, learning, aligning and growing together?

  • The first step is to consciously and proactively choose: there are situations when we just need to run fast and put off fires; open dialogue takes times and energy and we must learn to select the appropriate place and time.
  • The second step is to develop a greater awareness of our instinctive reactions and learn to challenge our mindset; after selecting a situation where we want to invest in open dialogue, we still need to change our habits; it is easy to fall into usual patterns. Feedback from a trusted colleague or the support of a professional coach can be of great help.
  • The third step is to train and practice on Trusting Collaboration.  Being clear on our intentions is a journey: can we open our mind to be truly curious and communicate from a place of trust? there are exercises and tools to help us (e.g. I recommend reading "Leadership and Self-Deception: getting out of the box" by Arbinger)

Although many experiential leadership development programs offer opportunities to increase self-awareness and find the confidence to engage in a more open dialogue, there is a lack of specific training opportunities to support us when we want to take a disagreement or a conflict and go to its roots, instead of making it go away.

Realizing this, and following our passion, we have created a specific set of programs, developing an empirical Model and a practical Training Method for Turning Conflicts into Constructive Dialogue.  Many European Executives have already been able to benefit from this training, both in teams and individually.

We offer C.L.E.A.R. Mindset™ workshops at various European locations and we design bespoke programs for both individuals and teams.  Get in contact to learn more of what we can offer to you!