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How To Have Productive Disagreements

As you work in sales and in business you are going to disagree with your peers and your team about what the best course of action is in some circumstances. You will have strong feelings, and they will have strong feelings too. You will end up arguing with each other about what course of action you should take.

These disagreements can be productive, or they can be relationship and result killers. Here’s how to make them productive.

  1. Make the Necessary Deposits: If you want to have productive arguments with your peers and your team (and maybe your clients) you need to have already made deposits in those relationships. Unless and until your intentions are known, disagreements may feel like they are personal and political. But if your intentions are known and your relationship is strong, then arguments and disagreements can be very productive in helping you produce better results.
  2. Don’t Make Personal Attacks: It bears repeating: if you want to have productive disagreements, you cannot make it personal. Your argument needs to center on the best choice to produce the outcome over which you are arguing. You cannot make personal attacks against the person or people you are arguing with. If they’ve done wrong in the past, leave it in the past. If they made mistakes in the past, leave those mistakes in the past, too. Confine your disagreement to the subject matter at hand.
  3. Accept That Other’s Intentions Are Good: You cannot have a productive disagreement while also questioning the other person’s intentions. If their intentions are bad, if what they are arguing for is immoral or illegal for example, then you are not having a productive disagreement. But if you’re arguing over the best course of action, then you have to assume that the other person wants the same outcome you do. If you treat them as if their intentions are bad, you can’t easily get to the best decision.
  4. Have a Clean Heart Yourself: And if you want other people to treat you as if your intentions are good you also have to have a clean heart. Your disagreement is not a productive disagreement if it is personal or political. If your gain is really what is driving your argument, you are not having a productive disagreement. Assume that others have good intentions and make sure your intentions are also above reproach.
  5. Find a Path You Can Agree On: And here’s the thing about productive disagreements: you don’t win by winning the argument. You win a productive disagreement by discovering the best path forward and gaining agreement as to what that path really is. I’ve had great relationships with partners who were willing to allow the person with the strongest feelings to determine the path forward in many important cases. They allowed the other person to make the decision because they valued the relationship as much as they did the outcome. And that is the heart of having a productive disagreement.

Remember, your goal in a productive disagreement isn’t to beat the other person (or persons). Your goal is to choose the best path forward together.


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