Making space for disagreements

There it is again, that feeling in my throat and gut, a tightening, as I sit in team meeting and listen to my colleagues disagreeing. I can feel the impulse inside myself of wanting everything to be peaceful and smooth.

Suddenly I’m back to being six years old, wanting to help out and be the good girl, make people smile and calm them down. Wanting to fix things.

Back in the present moment, I can feel my hand go up ready to volunteer to sort out the problem, even though I’m already overloaded with work. Somehow I’m feeling guilty – I should have made sure this problem didn’t even arise…if only I’d been more aware…and what can I do to stop the row?

How do you react to disagreements? Fight, flight…freeze or please? A bit of all of them? What’s your style?

I’m almost envious of colleagues who seem to have no problem expressing how they feel about something in the strongest terms possible. On the other hand, when fight is our go-to mode for disagreements, we are likely to breed a defensive atmosphere, a fearful one even, where creativity gets stifled because people are wary of treading on each other’s toes.

So how about when we are in flight mode? Often avoiding conflict? It can be very tempting to sweep disagreements under the carpet. If only it were that easy. When arguments aren’t fully processed, they are very likely to fester and then rise up again, somewhere, somehow.

As we say in our book, “Ingredients for Collective Intelligence”;

“Disagreements, even when they are fiery, are inevitable and transformative, one way or another.”

So how do we stick with uncomfortable disagreements, whether in the family or at work, so that we can move to a positive transformation, turning conflict into an opportunity for a group to evolve? Our book is a kind of recipe book for working through what’s needed for you as an individual and group to walk towards and embrace difference, including when these lead to disagreements. We explore the ingredients needed to build robust relationships, such as listening, holding each other’s needs with care, celebrating difference, and understanding what makes each other tick.

Back in the team meeting, I silently check in with myself. Having recognised my pattern of people pleasing as a response to conflict, I take a breath. I remember the importance of making space for a disagreement. My hand stays by my side. I begin to really listen.

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