Somehow, I Manage: Disagreement is a Healthy Part of Collaboration
A strong collaborative culture is one of my favorite parts of coming to work every day. One thing that isn’t touched on often is that disagreement can actually be an indicator of a healthy team.
In a collaborative environment you’re going to face disagreement or conflict. The most important thing to remember while working through it is to assume the best intentions from everyone involved. The person proposing an idea almost certainly isn’t trying to cause harm to the company, customers, or systems. And a person disagreeing with that idea probably isn’t trying to attack you or your abilities. We’re all just trying to make the best decision possible with the information we have at that moment.
For developers and engineers, when disagreements happen, they usually come during code reviews or in technical discussions. Often we might be very proud of the code or idea we’re presenting for review, certain that it is the right solution. While hearing push back can be frustrating, it is important to leave egos aside and realize that the reviewer also just wants the best solution for the problem at hand. If you are frustrated, that is okay, you’re human! Feel free to step away for a bit and come back later. When you are ready, start by asking clarifying questions to understand why there is disagreement. The reviewer might have additional context that you lack yourself — or they might lack the context that you have. The only way to resolve the disagreement and gain consensus is to hash things out respectfully.
Disagreement doesn’t only happen among the technical teams — folks in support, sales, and billing work collaboratively as well. The same advice above works any time you have a disagreement at work or in life. Take a few moments to yourself if you find emotions are running high. Then try to understand why there is disagreement. Present the facts, calmly, as you understand them. Give serious consideration to the other side’s viewpoint and be willing to change your own. Once all the facts are known everyone can work together to come to the best resolution.
Finally, disagreement with management can also be an indicator of a healthy team. As a manager, you are probably fairly knowledgeable in the work your team is doing. You might even be able to do some of it yourself. But, you may not have the same level of expertise on a topic as someone on your team. As a leader, is it even more important that you remain calm and be willing to change your viewpoint. Otherwise, people on your team will be afraid to challenge one of your ideas they know is wrong.
Always remember when you’re dealing with disagreement: assume the best intentions from everyone involved, stay calm and take a breather if you need to, and be willing to change your viewpoint when presented with new facts.
I wrote this blog post for A2 Hosting’s internal blog. Sharing it here as well.