Positive Arguments: 16 Ways To Foster Innovation Instead Of Conflict

Forbes Expert Panel – “Positive Arguments: 16 Ways To Foster Innovation Instead Of Conflict”


Disagreement in the workplace is to be expected. Whether it’s with your co-workers or your boss, a disagreement is bound to happen once differing opinions are introduced. However, these arguments don’t need to be destructive. There are multiple ways to approach disagreement that can end in positive change and innovation.

Differing opinions and discussion are the spark of any truly great idea, but the question is how to handle disagreement so it doesn’t instead lead to further problems. To help, these 16 professionals from Forbes Coaches Council explore how to bring about a positive resolution from a professional disagreement.

Forbes Coaches Council members offer advice on how to have positive disagreements in the workplace. Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Remember That It’s Not About You
It’s easy to get caught up in our perception of a situation, notably one about which we feel passionate. Conflict is actually healthy! When done well, disagreements can pave the way for innovation and creation by addressing stale or limited perspectives. Before you engage in a disagreement, think about the following: “Is what I am about to say about me?”, “What do I not know?”, “What might I learn?” – Marnie Mclain, Marnie Mclain Coaching

2. Adopt The ‘Yes, And’ Format
Improv brought us the “yes, and” format. When someone starts something, you can’t disagree or dismiss it. You must instead say, “yes, and…” Then you can pivot or you can build on what they say. It’s OK to disagree, respectfully. Be open (listen to their ideas). Be honest (share what you’re thinking). Be curious (assume they are allies and not adversaries). “Yes, and” yourselves into innovation! – Sandi Mitchell, Apex Catalyst Group

3. Let Ego Go
First, be crystal-clear in communication. Understand what the other people are saying, sharing, seeking. Can you stand in their shoes for a moment? Reflecting and acknowledging others’ views is important. Once there, find some shared space that can move the dialogue along. Most importantly, recognize your emotions and manage them. It’s human to react, but if your goal is progress, go there. – David Yudis, Potential Selves

4. Separate From Emotion
The most vital aspect of any challenging professional conversation is to put aside your feelings and establish the common goal you are trying to achieve by having a discussion. Similarly, using intellect over emotion allows you to “disagree” about a proposed course of action in terms of its effect on the business, rather than as a judgment on how valid you believe the idea to be. – Cindy Solomon, Cindy Solomon Associates

5. Embrace Dynamic Disagreement
To work dynamically we need to be creative, exploring all that lies between one “right” and another’s “right.” Avoiding polarity, instead co-creating third, fourth and fifth alternatives that outpass initial, often defensive reactions, works. By thinking generatively and being comfortable with not knowing, we work in a place of positive disruption, gaining the results we collectively need. – Clare Beckett-McInroy, Qatar Financial Centre

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Get Uncomfortable
The most common “wrong” way to deal with conflict is to avoid it—a pervasive problem. Another “wrong” way is to sugarcoat with fake niceness. This is just as ineffective as being mean, rude and ugly. The best place to be on the conflict continuum is right in the middle, where there’s honesty—genuine give and take. It may (and should) be uncomfortable. That’s when you know it’s working. – Bill Koch, Bill Koch Leadership Coaching

7. Match Verbal And Nonverbal Cues
Be present and open to dialogue by matching verbal and nonverbal cues. Align body language with words. For example, smiling or raising your voice at an inappropriate time can derail the solution. Glancing at your phone can be perceived as disrespectful. Show the importance and seriousness of the conversation by focusing solely on the person with whom you are speaking. – Deborah Hightower, Deborah Hightower, Inc.

8. Strive For Commitment, Not Consensus
It’s important to set standards in advance for how to move forward post-disagreement. For instance, in a committee setting or group discussion, have a joint shared value system that consensus is not mandatory, but the commitment to move forward collectively as a team is. Disagreements can foster conflict and innovation at the same time, so moving forward collectively as a unit is vital. – Debbie Ince, Executive Talent Finders, Inc

9. Differentiate Between Descriptions And Definitions

Socrates observed that most people disagree because they didn’t first define the topic. No single reference point that both parties acknowledge exists. Instead, people argue with descriptions, a vast multitude of nonessential elements. To avoid this, pause the conversation and reduce the topic to its bare essentials—no more than five if possible. Use your company’s strategy as the standard. – Kevin Black, Kevin Black Consulting

10. Let Go Of Who’s Right Or Wrong
Many times when disagreements occur in the workplace, it is because one person or both people are hung up on who is right and who is wrong. Perception has a funny way of making people with opposing views believe that the other person is wrong, off-base or at fault. However, if you detach from being right or wrong and instead be the problem-solver, things lighten up and solutions become apparent. – Lori A. Manns, Quality Media Consultant Group LLC

11. Prioritize Unity Over Personal Agendas
A quote I was raised on is, “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.” One tip is for everyone who contributes to be detached from their idea once shared. This way, if someone disagrees, they disagree with the idea, not the person. Nothing is personal. This completely changes the dynamic into one that prioritizes group unity above personal agendas. – Shadé Zahrai, Influenceo Global Inc.

12. Focus On Outcome, Benefit And Result
Disagreements are often tied to egos or old traumas. By focusing on the customer or client, you’ll get the baggage and ego out of the way and get back to income creation and creating long-term value for your clients and business. Maybe you’ll get your partner back on the same page with other issues too! – Mike Koenigs, MikeKoenigs.com

13. Navigate Perspectives With Curiosity
The key is to consider that an outcome of having conversations with differing perspectives is not only natural, but it also offers the possibility of a better, more broadly based approach when integrated. So keeping curiosity as to how that other person’s perspective may make you aware of a blind spot, add to a better outcome or offer insight is important. – Dr. Denise Trudeau-Poskas, Blue Egg Leadership

14. Check Your Judgment At The Door
It is natural, even instinctual, for us to judge people and situations as good or bad, right or wrong. However, it is that judgement that prevents us from seeing other’s point of view and truly listening to what they have to say. When we judge others as “wrong” we immediately devalue their perspective. Suspending judgment allows us to open up to solutions and other viewpoints in a new way. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC

15. Encourage Openness
Transparent leadership can help limit harmful conflict and reframe disagreements as a natural result of working together. Managers who seek out regular, individual feedback from workers can foster a culture of transparency that helps employees feel trusted and safe to voice their opinions and concerns before they escalate. – Rick Gibbs, Insperity

16. Smartly Package Your Words
“Good morning, boss. I was thinking about your proposal and I would like to discuss a few ideas that will save our company almost $50,000.” A sentence like this will get your boss’s attention. If you smartly package your words, it will hardly seem like a disagreement. – Mika Hunter, Female Defender