How to Win at Disagreeing

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Group projects: Either you love them or you loathe them. Even if you're good at collaborating on and across teams, you're never going to agree with every element of a final product. There may be one surefire way of reducing friction in these kinds of efforts — and it may surprise the most conflict-averse among us.

Norwegian researchers have just released a study on concrete steps any of us can take to improve the way we disagree with each other. While it's easy to go along with the flow because you don't like to stand out or create conflict, it's important to remember that the right kind of criticism be a huge benefit. A good hiring manager knows that contrarians, given the right support structures, are big assets to any team.

"Groups that are used to disagreeing openly generally handle changes better than groups that focus on agreement," said study author Frode Heldal. That's one reason he and his team developed a set of practices for challenging each other respectfully and constructively. They've boiled it down to a simple list:

  1. Ask for the behavior you want more of, not less of, from others.
  2. When you get criticized, listen and don't defend yourself. Show that you are grateful.
  3. Make decisions and acknowledge others' decisions.
  4. Appoint a person who challenges the decisions made (devil's advocate). Take turns being in this role.
  5. Challenge routines and habits.
  6. Dare to challenge the expert.
  7. Ask why. Request explanations.
  8. Practice arguing for the views of others.
  9. Be honest and clear. Don't package messages, but be constructive.
  10. "Step on toes." Be confident that your argument is worth others' time.

See the rest of the team's findings for more ideas on integrating them into your workplace.