Embracing differing opinions in meetings: How to agree to disagree

In today’s world, more often than not, you will end up working with people with different backgrounds, traditions and beliefs. You’re told by your boss to embrace all those differences and to work according to core values such as ‘acceptance’ or ‘diversity’.

‘Diversity in itself is a core strength that will enable us to write better software and build better products’. Edward Kim, Cofounder of Gusto.

But what does that mean on a daily basis? How can you really embrace different views, or oppose them in an acceptable way? How can you agree or disagree openly?

First of all, the culture of the company should be one that allows you to do that. Bringing up new views and ideas should be supported by the company strategy, even rewarded. This is how some companies have been able to navigate the difficult times of crisis in the past decade. Disagreements are not a personal attack, they are just another point of view, which emerges from our work experiences, from our history, from who we are.

A few thoughts for putting your mind at ease the next meeting around:

  1. Try to imagine a company where everyone is exactly the same: dresses the same, believes in the same things, agrees on everything. What kind of work environment would that be? One that has given up on progress most likely, as there is no way forward from that with no new ideas, no contradictions. A desolated and indifferent scenario from a science fiction series. Disagreeing with coworkers means to give and receive new and fresh perspectives, because we say what we think and respect what others have to say, it is a growth opportunity, the possibility to amplify our own horizons.
  2. Remember that meetings should be the arena for teams to exchange views, to discuss the next steps, to make an action plan, to possibly change the current path. If you always agree with your boss, why exactly did he or she employ you? Take the opportunity and say what you think, even if it’s not what the others are saying.
  3. To make a point, present facts. If you feel the direction you want to go is good, bring all you have to the discussion: your past experiences, your knowledge, your success or failure stories and get some data to back it all up.
  4. Learn to really listen. Has it happened to you to get fired up in a discussion with your colleague only to realise an hour later that you were approaching the issue from different perspectives but that the end goal was the same? How silly, right? So, next time, first listen carefully, even if language difficulties are a barrier, even if it’s boring. Just listen, be in the moment.
  5. The common goal of a meeting is to bring the business forward. That is what you should achieve, both on an individual and on a group level. It might sometimes mean that you would need to compromise at some level on your personal views: they might come in handy at the next meeting!

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