When Utah Governor Spencer Cox launched the “Disagree Better” initiative with the National Governors Association, he acknowledged the bitterness between Republicans and Democrats. The driving force of this concept is that to preserve our humanity and solve the problems ahead of us, we must learn to disagree better.
You never convince anyone by attacking them. You actually convince them by trying to bring them along. This is not a civility initiative, this is about conflict and healthy conflict.
With today’s headline – how to disagree better – we explore how leaders around the country are demonstrating what it looks like to disagree without being toxic. It helps when you’re able to release having to be right, where we find today’s insight. And in today’s tool, check out an amazing resource from Nina Amir on 5 ways to stop needing to be right. Let’s dive in.
The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #19
How to disagree better
A recent Pew Research Center Study finds that our views of politics and elected officials are growing more negative with little hope there’s any improvement ahead.
These findings reflect why Governor Cox wants fellow governors to help him do something more about this polarizing issue than continue fighting one another. Cox and Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, released this video demonstrating how to problem solve from a position of mutual respect.
Their message isn’t that we can’t disagree – it’s how we disagree that is so damaging in our society. They offer three ways to manage disagreements in the moment: take a deep breath, be curious and if you still disagree, that’s okay.
Conflict isn’t bad, it’s the way we disagree that matters.
The initiative calls on Governors to model how to disagree better, set an example and create a template for other public officials at every level to follow.
What if I don’t have to be right?
Here’s where it gets sticky. Let’s say you are pursuing a direction on an initiative that you are especially passionate about and your co-worker vehemently disagrees. Because you’re slightly more senior, you get your way. But when things don’t go as planned, your colleague throws you under the bus in front of your team. Now what do you do?
This encounter was an experience shared by Gina, who wanted coaching on how to manage a conversation she wanted to have with said colleague, to tell her how wrong she was to try to diminish her in public.
After getting a chance to breathe and ground herself, Gina paused. I wondered out loud, “What if you don’t have to be right?”
“But,” Gina insisted, “what she did was wrong!”
After more silence I asked her, “For the sake of argument, say we agree. So what? What would you like to see happen?”
She began to thaw when she considered that there might be another option they could both agree on – rather than sticking to their polarizing points of view.
When Gina started her conversation from that place, she acknowledged up front that the public berating didn’t sit well with her. And yet she took the next step, asking how they might move ahead together to find a mutual decision they could agree upon. Her peer, who was primed and ready with her defensive arguments, was speechless. In letting go of the need to show her up – and focus instead on what needed to be done – Gina gave her a glimpse of what real partnership could look like.
The two found common ground, and after revealing their plan to their team – her peer publicly praised Gina for having the courage to step into this mess and help them both find a resolution.
5 ways to stop needing to be right
When I found this article by Nina Amir – I resonated with her ideas after grappling with how difficult it is to let go of feeling like my answer or opinion is the only or best answer. I have shared this link with dozens of clients who report that taking these steps has freed them from their insistence on one way of doing things, theirs. Two people can actually be right. Seriously! Check these out and see what you think:
1. Would you rather be right or happy? Most of us would rather be happy, but we often equate being right with being happy. In fact, when you make someone else wrong, deep down inside, you don’t feel good (or right) about your actions…or yourself. That’s why you’ll never be happy as long as you insist others are wrong.
2. Consider that you want to be right to justify yourself or your actions in some way. Maybe you want to prove you are smarter, not wrong, better, or that it wasn’t your fault. Drop the justifications; the need to be right diminishes—or disappears. Your reasons tend to end up as blame and excuses, neither of which improve a situation, relationship, or how you feel about yourself.
3. Stop telling yourself you aren’t proving the other person wrong but just proving that you are right. In fact, you possess the need to make the other person wrong. If you accomplish that goal, on some level, you believe you will feel better about yourself. (As mentioned, on another level you will feel worse. Instead, try allowing the other person to be right. Doing so is as easy as saying, “You know, you are right.” And those words do not mean you are wrong. Two people can be right.
4. Start small. Look for little opportunities to practice dropping your need to be right. For example, don’t tell the waiter he took your order incorrectly. You said, “dressing on the side,” but the dressing came on the salad. You can eat it the way this one time or say, “I would prefer the dressing on the side. Is there a way we can correct this situation?” Get used to allowing for the possibility that you aren’t right and the other person is not wrong.
5. Focus on what’s right with everything! The need to be right makes you focus on what is wrong. To counteract this tendency, stop looking for what’s wrong. Instead, look for what’s right. When you change your focus in this way, you’ll discover fewer opportunities to point your finger and say, “That’s wrong,” “You’re wrong,” or “I am right.”
I first heard the audio of the Polis/Cox video on my local NPR station in Colorado, thanks to Ryan Warner, host of Colorado Matters. It struck me that two governors, with clear differences, were finding they could agree to disagree, maintain a working friendship and look for more ways to find agreement with respect for each other.
It is this level of consideration for the other – in how we choose to disagree – that gives me hope for our elected leaders to move forward even with what appear to be insurmountable odds.
Understanding the depth of what Nina Amir shared in her blog, I concur with her assessment,
The need to be right makes you focus on what is wrong.
There are plenty of areas right now where you might be convinced you are right and the other is wrong. Saying you want to disagree better doesn’t mean you have to release your position. In fact, you may hold it even stronger after further discussion. Here’s the test: can you disagree with someone without causing permanent damage? Destroying a relationship? Building resentment?
I would like to argue, it is possible.