Saying that our society has become very polarized is a massive understatement. The 2016 political campaign was one of the nastiest and most vile election cycles I’ve ever seen. Personal attacks drowned out any attempt to discuss the issues and it was pretty clear that up and down the ballot, the candidates really did not like each other. There are many reasons that we find ourselves in this mess – but that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I’d like to explore the long lost notion of respectful disagreement.
Many of us entrepreneurs have a healthy ego drive. This is a good thing and should not be confused with the self-centered, destructive aspects of ego. Ego drive is our desire to persuade someone to agree with us. When an entrepreneur hears the word “Yes,” it’s music to our ears. We develop marketing strategies, sales pitches and a variety of other theses to convince others to see things our way and buy whatever we’re selling. This might be an idea, a product, a service or whatever. We all know that things go relatively smoothly when heads are nodding approvingly and the Yes-word often finds its way into our eardrums. But we are also aware – sometimes painfully so – that others don’t always agree with us. And if we aren’t careful, that’s where the trouble begins.
Respectful disagreement is guided by the ageless precept of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you. Pretty simple – right? Yet, our strong ego drive sometimes makes it difficult to practice the Golden Rule. We struggle to understand how it could be possible that someone else doesn’t see the logic that we have offered. We can’t believe that another person actually has a counter perspective that is possibly 180˚ different than ours. Tempers may flare, veins in necks begin popping, faces get red and jaws are clenched. The whole situation can quickly devolve into raised voices, hurt feelings and a completely unproductive encounter.
Here’s what I’ve learned about respectful disagreement. It starts with understanding that we’re all equally entitled to our opinions. Thus, while what I believe may or may not be right, it doesn’t entitle me to become a flaming you-know-what when making my case to others. Further, I need to remember that positive persuasion is much more likely to produce the outcome I desire than is a negative approach. Remembering to smile before engaging in a persuasive moment helps set a positive tone. I also work hard to avoid making inflammatory statements. For example, saying “You obviously don’t understand what I’m saying,” can sound accusatory. A better approach might be to say, “Let me explain things differently,” or “I’m sorry, I’m not being very articulate with what I’m saying.” Being mindful of my body language is also important. I try to make sure that I maintain an “openness” at all times. I use non-threatening gestures; keep from crossing my arms; eliminate the urge to sigh or roll my eyes, and retain a passive facial expression. When we nod and say, “I understand what you are saying,” whether we agree with it or not, we are signaling the desire to preserve and continue a dialogue.
If we want to get to Yes, we do everything we possibly can to make the other person feel important and respected. We fail at this when we are manipulative, have hidden agendas, or take an approach that makes that person feel small or angry. Sometimes it’s hard work to stay positive and courteous throughout the encounter. Maybe the other person doesn’t choose to follow the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t mean we should do the same. If we don’t end up on the same page, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.”
Civil and positive discourse is still possible. Practicing it will dramatically increase our chances of success as we work to persuade others to say “Yes.”
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.