Disagreeing agreeably with others is an art form. For some of us, it’s intuitive and comes quite naturally. For others, it’s a learned behavior driven by unpleasant experiences at home with family or at work with business associates. And, then there’s that group that just never seems to learn how to disagree without proving themselves disagreeable. They just get nasty and treat every conversation as an interrogation.
Regardless of which of these three groups you may fit in best, here are some communication principles and techniques that will help you through the wilderness of disagreeing in an agreeable manner. Even if they don’t come to you naturally, they can be learned.
Our behavioral partners at Professional Dynametric Programs® have convinced us that there are four primary communications styles:
In order to disagree agreeably, it’s important for you to know the characteristics of each.
Here’s someone who speaks to others forcefully and frankly, likes to say things only once, expresses strong opinions, likes to debate, and generally sounds decisive. (S)he also believes the world runs on conflict, so argument and challenge are standard operating practice for this person.
Your communications with them work best when they are concise and direct, focused on goals and winning, and problem solving is outcome (results) oriented. If you have a disagreement with something they’ve said, do everything possible to avoid saying “but we’ve always done it this way”. They really don’t care, and they will use that fact as further ammunition for their cause.
These folks like to talk and present, spread encouragement and optimism, show a great deal of empathy, and talk in global concepts. On occasion, they may interrupt and talk too much; and they probably will “over persuade” and leave people feeling manipulated rather than inspired or motivated.
They have a tendency to take challenge as an affront to their integrity; so when you disagree with them, make sure you point out that your concern is with the idea, not the person. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of having them withdraw. To avoid their “exit”, focus on opportunities and personal skills, provide affirmation and recognition, and include them in group discussions.
These are the calm, easy-going people who are patient, accommodating, willing to wait for others to finish, and internalize conflict. So much so, they go to great lengths to avoid conflict of any kind and leave you startled when you suddenly realize they’ve never really agreed to what you are talking about. As you might suspect, they have a natural reluctance to change, especially when it appears to be purposeless change.
When you talk with them, make sure they have plenty of time to process what you’re discussing, especially if it involves change. Provide an agenda well in advance of the meeting whenever possible. If a chance meeting turns into a discussion, remember that they need time to process information and avoid pressing for an immediate answer, except in cases of emergency.
These are wonderful people who are concerned, sincere, conscientious, accurate, detailed. Painfully detailed to some of us. They are the living testimonials to those who can’t answer the “what time is it?” question without telling you how the watch was built. They may bury you with facts, show a great deal of inflexibility, and spend more time than you want alarming you with might go wrong.
The best way to communicate with people who use this style of communication is by using very clear and detailed messages. Perceived criticism triggers the “let me show/tell you why I’m right” gene, and it pretty much brings any hope of progress to a halt. It helps to give concrete, specific examples and to maintain a respectful and courteous tone of voice.
Based on these thumbnail descriptions, can you identify your natural style? That’s important. The more you know about your own style, the more you realize what you have to change to be a more effective communicator. And the only way to disagree agreeably is to tune in to the right communications channel.
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