Disagree without Anger

by Ron Potter

“Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I hate you. We need to relearn that in our society.” – Morgan Freeman

Why are good friends able to disagree without getting angry?  They spent time getting to know each other first.

First Rate Stupidity

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You’ve seen me use this quote several times but always with the focus on the positive results of being able to hold opposing ideas at the same time.

Let me reverse that for this blog:

“First-rate stupidity is holding on to a single idea or philosophy without allowing others to share their point of view that may be different from your own.”

It’s OK to Disagree

I believe this is what Morgan Freeman was referring to when he said that it’s OK to disagree without hating each other.  I’m afraid that our society has fallen into this trap of not allowing different points of view to penetrate our own belief system.  I’m sure there are several reasons for this, including social media, politics, news media.  I get very concerned when we begin to understand how some large tech firms send us to websites and posts they believe fit our profile and seldom show us the opposing view.  This is not healthy!

Listen to all points of view

Years ago I was working with a CEO who believed that he listened to everyone on his team equally so that it encouraged all points of view.  As I watched him work with his team for the first time I saw him put this philosophy into practice.  He did indeed ask every individual on his team to give their input on certain topics so that they could see all points of view.  However, I began to observe an interesting pattern in his questioning.

If someone on his team put out a point of view that didn’t agree with his thinking, he very sincerely thanked them for the input with no further comment.  He would then move onto the next person on the team and ask for their viewpoint.  If that team member seemed to voice a point of view that agreed with the CEO’s thinking he would also sincerely thank them for their input but would then reinforce their thinking because that was what he believed as well.  When he was finished asking for input from each team member, it was clear to me and clear to the team which point of view he agreed with and which one he didn’t.

The team had gotten used to this “vetting ” of ideas and the ones who disagreed with the CEO simply went silent about their point of view and moved forward with the team in an effort to execute the CEO’s point of view as successfully as possible.  Not the best use of team diversity.

Trusted Feedback

When the CEO and I were alone, I pointed out my observation.  He was appalled at his own behavior.  He really didn’t intend to shut off different points of view and didn’t realize that his behavior was doing exactly that.  I’ve mentioned many times in previous blogs that I’ve met few leaders who didn’t have the best intentions.  However, their behavior didn’t match those intents.

This is why feedback in the moment is so important.  It can come from a coach like myself but we aren’t there on a regular and consistent basis.  Everyone must cultivate trusted relationships they depend on to give them straight feedback in the moment that doesn’t really match their intent.

Take stock

How many of those relationships do you actually have?  If you honestly believe you have many, good for you!  It will make you a better leader and team member in the long run.  If you have difficulty thinking of anyone who actually fills that role for you or if you’re concerned that the feedback they give you is intended to protect themselves or make you feel better about your behavior, watch out.  You haven’t developed the kind of trusting relationships you need to be successful and satisfied in life.


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