Supervisor Training: Facilitating Constructive Disagreements

In every supervisor training we facilitate, we discover internal disagreements between employees on business related issues. Teaching the supervisors and other company leadership how to manage them and, more importantly, leverage them effectively can make a large impact on the business. Viewing those situations as opportunities for improvement, leaders can convert them into constructive disagreements that better align the workforce, generate ideas that increase efficiency and benefit the company. The baseline is to exchange ideas and determine which view is best for all parties.

In working with other people, which we all need to do to some extent, disagreements will naturally arise. However, that should not be seen as a negative thing. If people disagree in good faith, important feedback, information and even solution ideas are surfaced that benefit not only them, but the company. Prosit developed four strategies for taking advantage of these disagreements:

Provide Constructive Feedback:

First off, the objective is not to be right, but it is to ensure everybody is aligned. For example, say a group of employees regularly provides feedback on a particular recurring issue within the company. For some reason, their feedback does not seem to be heard and changes are not being made to address the issue. It can turn out the leadership of the company or other personnel in the company disagree the issue needs to be addressed. Instead of responding to the group of employees with a detailed explanation or meeting with them to resolve the disagreement, they may not respond at all or in a non-constructive way that makes the employees feel devalued.

To produce more constructive disagreements, leaders need to ensure expectations are clearly set for discussions, their purposes, and their results. Always take steps with the big picture in mind. Consider if every decision benefits the organization as a whole or just one department or group of individuals. Ask open ended questions in a way that communicates we are all in this together, listen to their answers carefully and avoid offering feedback that tells others that their ideas are wrong.

Be Open to Different Perspectives:

Curiosity about different perspectives and how people arrive at their conclusions goes a long way to facilitating more constructive disagreements. Other people may give input on optimizing an old process or using a machine for a different purpose or have a different take on the important features of a specific product. It may be easier or make one feel good to tell them they are wrong or do not know enough to make suggestions, but it will likely end the discussion and cause problems down the road. Instead, be curious and open to why they have that idea or what the idea is based on. It is the job of leaders to see the big picture when others fail to do so.

For example, a manager is responsible for developing a new service line for a department. They are going to get feedback from all directions and will need to listen, understand it by asking questions and then filter it through the lens of, again, how does this benefit the organization and make sense as a solution for this project. For the product developers, execution is key, and they may disagree with ideas they believe make execution more complicated. For the customer service personnel, however, the customer relationship is paramount. Delivering on the customer requirements is their focus and execution is less important. As a leader, the manager must view the issues from different angles to find the solution that makes the most sense. Thoughtful constructive disagreement is about being willing to embrace tension and explore possible results with a sense of curiosity.

Leverage Data:

Leveraging data to evaluate ideas is crucial to success. Normally, there is within companies an abundance of ideas and suggestions. Some will not hold up to basic scrutiny. Others, even after evaluating them from various perspectives, appear very compelling. That is when running them through a data analysis becomes important. The data should highlight flaws that were not initially considered or, on the flip side, reinforce the value of the idea. It can be frustrating when the data conflicts with the excitement around the idea but testing an idea out before implementation saves time and money in many cases.

It may not be easy for people to accept the results of the data tests, but good or bad utilizing the data as a guide is a worthwhile effort. And even if the data does not support the idea, that does not mean the idea was bad. It just means it’s not going work in this scenario. The objective is to make informed decisions based on data for better results.

Don’t Make It Personal:

Certain disagreements may unfortunately go in ways such as questioning someone’s intelligence or experience or qualifications. This is where constructive discussion ends, and personal feelings become involved. People get frustrated and defensive. An adversarial environment is created that benefits no one and certainly not the company. Everyone needs to be committed to accepting constructive feedback to gets things done.

Leaders need to recognize when disagreements get personal or stalemate over firmly declared sides with no openness to understanding. Work to refocus on the goal of the discussion and engage the team on that problem. This helps surface assumptions, misunderstandings and other issues people may not have realized or considered were being brought to the disagreement. Leaders should facilitate as much as possible, ask questions, listen and find common ground instead of choosing a side.

In conclusion, every person at any company brings their own unique perspective, beliefs and experience to work. If those differences can be integrated or harnessed in a common direction, new approaches to solving problems that make the company stronger and more efficient can be discovered. Actively choose not to look at disagreements as roadblocks. Instead, view them as opportunities to find new ideas and innovative solutions.

Please contact us with any of your leadership or supervisor training needs.

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