I saw a great one-panel cartoon on the Internet the other day. Two guys are standing by the water-cooler at the office and one says to the other, “I agree with much about what you’re saying, mostly the brief silent parts between the words.” What a perfect jumping-off point for today’s article!
Differences of opinion, varying points of view and opposing beliefs are common in the workplace. What is also common is how often people interpret a different point of view as an attack on their beliefs or an attempt to undermine their position — or they feel the other person is simply being difficult.
While any of those scenarios could be true — and in the case of the man in the cartoon, they probably all are — they don’t necessarily have to be. But when faced with conflict, many of us assume the worst and tune others out. The result: Solving problems or generating the best ideas often becomes an exercise in frustration.
How do you deal with conflict?
The fact is, some people are better at dealing with conflict than others. What is also true is there is good and bad on both sides of the conflict ledger. Some people who are good with conflict can tackle an issue head-on, which is great news. The bad news is they often create unnecessary further tension. At the opposite end of spectrum, a person who avoids conflict might have a higher tolerance for disagreement and not sweat the small stuff when ideas clash. The downside for a conflict-avoider is that emotions can build up and unresolved differences can fester, with unpleasant results.
So today, let’s agree that conflict can be good because it can resolve issues. And let’s also agree that some people embrace conflict and some avoid it.
What we will focus on is how to voice our opinions without upsetting others. How can we influence or persuade others while still being accepting? Or — bottom line — how can we object without being objectionable?
How to be a positive objector
Every day, I help organizations improve team effectiveness, performance and leadership-building. I see people who struggle with voicing their opinions and I see others who excel at it. I call those who do it well “positive objectors,” and I’ve noticed that they all seem to have five key strategies that consistently work. They are:
1. Acknowledge the other person
Positive objectors always recognize the other point of view first. It not only shows the other party that they are listening, but it’s also a great way to ensure clarity before they deliver their own viewpoint.
Takeaway tip: Nod your head and repeat the other person’s statement to ensure you’ve got it right. If you’re not clear, ask for clarification. (You probably won’t have to ask; they’ll be all over you.)
2. Speak the right body language
The best communicators are consciously aware of what their bodies are saying, because body language speaks volumes. They avoid movement that could be interpreted as aggression and assume a more open posture, such as leaning forward attentively, to make their points.
Takeaway tip: Avoid finger-pointing, arm-crossing and toe-tapping. If you start to ramp up your anxiety level it could have the same effect on the other person.
3. Hit the mute button
Positive objectors have mastered the art of the mute button. They know when to talk and when to be silent. Understanding the power of silence and the impact it can have in human interaction is a huge asset.
Takeaway tip: Don’t be the first, don’t be the last, don’t be the loudest and don’t cut people off. Just be clear, cool and calm when stating your point.
4. Share ownership
Positive objectors have an uncanny way of making their points of view or beliefs inclusive. Of course, it always depends on the situation, but the ability to let the opposing side add ideas to your position allows for a more unified perspective.
Takeaway tip: Don’t make it personal; it’s not you versus them. It should be about solving problems and issues for the good of the team. If you can get even one morsel of buy-in from the other side, you’ll be off to the races.
5. Show respect
You’ve got to give respect to get respect, and positive objectors do it with ease. Showing empathy, good social judgment and genuine concern are hallmarks of respected people.
Takeaway tip: “Treat others as you would like to be treated” is often quoted and more often forgotten in the heat of the moment.
There is one final key characteristic that the best positive objectors are absolutely brilliant at. It’s called framing, and you can use it to make all the other strategies I’ve listed even more effective. Framing is how you act to influence others by acknowledging another point of view while asserting your own position.
Here’s an example of framing in the context of the first strategy, acknowledging the other person:
“Wow, I never thought of that. That’s a really interesting approach. I like it. I wonder what would happen if we also tried it this way. What do you think?”
By not discounting the opposing view and giving credit for a great idea, you take the edge off the entire conversation and set up the opportunity for some common ground as the discussion progresses.
No, not every exchange is going to go according to plan and yes, we have to pick our battles. But the potential damage to your team, your relationship with the other person, and the perception of how others see you can be best managed by becoming a positive objector.
More on working together effectively:
- Five keys to employee engagement
- Five ways to fend off energy vampires
- Would you like a LATTE with that complaint?
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