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7 steps to extract value from people who disagree with you

Most of us don’t like being wrong. When someone disagrees with us, our fight/flight reaction kicks in to protect ourselves from being the one that’s wrong. It’s often how overt and covert conflict begins or worsens.


When is the last time you had someone disagree with you? Or give you feedback you were not expecting? Or got some aggressive reaction from someone to something you said?


The moment you feel this fight/flight reaction is crucial for creating or destroying value. Here are 7 steps to make sure you create value:


  1. Notice your reaction – usually there are physical signals. I often get one in the gut. Others feel hot or tense in some part of their body.
  2. Breathe, drink water, sit back, do something in that moment so you don’t react immediately.
  3. Trick the brain so that you go into a curious frame of mind. You might say to yourself “Wow, that’s interesting, I wonder why they think that way?” Remind yourself that you could be making assumptions (see Assumptions: The Silent Assassin).
  4. Hold the curious frame of mind and ask questions. “Tell me more about…” is a good one to show you’ve been listening and also buys you time if you are still reacting!
  5. Listen and probe further, look for gems in what they are saying.
  6. When you can see that the other person has felt heard and acknowledged, respond with your thoughts in relation to what you have heard.
  7. Thank them for their contribution and reflect on what you have learned.


You may gain value from the conversation itself by learning from the person who disagrees with you. When you are able to hold the curious stance, you also gain value in the relationship as the person disagreeing feels like you listened to them. This is a big “deposit in the emotional trust account” to build trust and it enhances the conversation quality. It is a particularly important skill to apply when we are in a position of power (see People may be afraid of you - and why you should care and various articles on power).


Meg Wheatley (author of Leadership and the new sciences) once said “Conflict is an inevitable consequence of inter-dependence.” Having disagreements in the workplace is not only inevitable but a good sign that there is healthy inter-dependence. A workplace without disagreements is most likely to be a place where people will say what you want to hear or stay silent, which is not valuable or healthy.


How much value is your organisation getting from disagreements?


Related articles:

Can ‘harmony’ be damaging your team and organisation?

The most problematic leadership gap: The knowing-doing gap

Smart people aren’t always smart together

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