Can we agree to disagree?

I was in a very interesting meeting yesterday. One of our more inquisitive employees said that sometimes curiosity can be mistaken for questioning. This sparked an interesting discussion about how communicating intent is a shared responsibility.

If trust isn’t high in the relationship, or intent is unclear, it is relatively easy to confuse questions with questioning. When the questions relate to the other person’s job, responsibilities, choices or behaviour, it is difficult not to think: “Why are you asking me this?”, “Do you not believe that I know what I am doing?”, “Why should I defend my actions to you?”, “Why are you challenging me?”.

Many people become defensive, when they do not know the agenda for the questions asked, and will either withdraw or even become offensive. (“What do you know?”)

I especially see this when people are very busy, focused on the task at hand or running to their next meeting and not really in a very talkative mood. And of course there is a time and place for everything. We cannot discuss every decision made, every choice, every structure with every person we pass on the way to the coffee machine.

However, this led me to think about whether or not we really appreciate the people, who disagree with us? Do we truly value those who have different perspectives, values and opinions in our busy lives, where how we spend our day, hour, minute and second matters more than ever in order for us to meet our deadlines, reach our goals and get done in time to get home and see our kids before they fall asleep?

How often do we dismiss the person with a different perspective and surround ourselves with people who see the world as we do, in order to make life smoother with less questions? How often do we make assumptions about the people around us that dismiss the possibility that they might not in fact agree or feel as we do? (“This is great, isn’t it?”, “Who would want that?”).

The meeting reminded me that purposely taking the time to really listen to other people’s perspectives, letting people who have different opinions and different approaches, have a place in our lives, on our team and in our busy schedules is something we should all commit to.

Valuing other people’s differences is not only about building diverse teams. Inviting people to share and openly ask questions to truly understand each other strengthens a team’s level of trust, provides them with a shared language and a common understanding of their shared goals and core purpose, while leveraging the power of the many perspectives, opinions, different approaches and paradigms in the team.

Do you remember to invest your time and make space to value other people’s opinions, even if you have to agree to disagree?

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn on August 25, 2016)