Experiment #5 - Getting comfortable with disagreeing
Updated: Feb 22
Experiment #5 is all about finding the courage to disagree.
The clues are always there. Sometimes you don't even have to look too hard to find them..
My high school reports were an early indication of a tendency to want to keep the peace.
"Happily supports other points of view"
Chimed the head of English enthusiastically in my Year 11 report (Age 15).
During my graduate programme, it was pointed out over 3 days of observation, that he has
"an unusual ability to push and pull in a conversation in exactly equal proportions"
And finally from a recent Personality Profile report, another clue
"You do not find it easy to accept something cannot be changed, and you take this as a challenge to find a way. You are good at playing devil's advocate - not for the sake of petty conflict, but to encourage healthy debate."
Through the process of exercising disagreement, I wagered, I'd be more in touch with my own voice. And thus, this is an experiment, in NOT mediating, NOT seeing both sides of the argument, but instead picking one side of the fence and choosing to stand there.
Avoiding conflict at any cost is something that always came naturally to me. In short, I'm probably a bit of a people pleaser. A tendency towards being overly diplomatic and overly deferential. An easy ally. A genuine confidante. But also easily influenced, and not always influential.
Here are some personal lessons.
Pick your battles
Most of my experiments are practiced daily for 30 days. I found this one tricky to do every single day, as it triggered a thought process of looking for an argument! (Cue: Monty Python Sketch) Which defeats the purpose obviously as you are then disagreeing for the sake of it. So lesson 1: Pick your battles. Not everything is worth disagreeing over.
You do get used to it
Something physiological happens when we face fear. Our pulse quickens, clammy hands. It’s all part of the brain chemistry’s flight or freeze response. Which is logical when you’re facing a venomous snake. But a disagreement in a meeting shouldn’t bring about the same response. But for some people it does.
That said, the more this experiment became top of mind, the more I threw myself in to the process of disagreeing. It was uncomfortable at first, but as I practiced it more, I became more comfortable with how I challenged others. Holding back an opinion now doesn't seem so uncomfortable. In fact towards the end of the 30 days, I was almost looking forward to the opportunity.
It produces FAR better conversations
When you take a position to counter the one you are hearing. 2 things need to happen simultaneously
You actually need to be listening
You need to have a position that you believe in.
It’s making me think whether actually consciously disagreeing and stating your view is actually not being objectionable and difficult. It’s actually necessary. For not doing so means indulging people falsely. Not doing it is actually lazy and ultimately makes for poorer communication.
What started out as an experiment to face conflict head on, interestingly created more closeness. Somewhat counter intuitively, I found that by taking a deliberate and sometimes opposing stance you draw out a better conversation. Where I expected hostility, I more often than not received more openness, and greater respect.
It’s increased my confidence in every day conversations. There’s a lot that is said about owning your behaviour. And my latest experiment has taught me it starts with the very words we utter and how we express it.
Anish is a self confessed Change obsessive and founder of Jigsaw Change Consulting. A London based consultancy providing an improvement lens on to meeting culture.
You can read all about the previous experiments over at www.jigsawconsulting.co.uk/30dayexperiment
Stay tuned for Experiment #6