An Exercise in Compromise: How to Agree to Disagree
Diplomacy is an oft-overlooked skill -- even among the most seasoned entrepreneurs.
But as your company grows and your staff expands, your ability to navigate interpersonal relationships and to make compromises will ultimately determine the health of your corporate culture.
Choose your battles. If you disagree with every new idea your employees present, they will see you as argumentative. You’ll create an invisible barrier that stifles long-term innovation. So, when you choose to voice your disagreement, make sure it matters. Carefully evaluate the impact of sharing negative feedback upon employee morale. Ask yourself, “Is this topic important enough to be addressed?” And, “If so, how can I best address it?”
Don’t make it personal. Don’t set yourself up for an angry or overly emotional interaction. If you get into a fender-bender on the way to your office or in an argument with your significant other, put off difficult conversations. Your reputation for professionalism is what will earn your employees’ respect. When you speak, stay calm. Focus on the issue at hand and support logical arguments with real data. Never attack or demean any member of your staff.
Validate the opposing viewpoint. You hired each member of your team for a reason. Many businesses fail because an entrepreneur has charged heedlessly in the wrong direction. Listen to the entire idea and share the aspects upon which you agree before dissenting. If you want your employees to stay with your company, make sure they feel heard and that they know their opinions are valued.
Ask, don’t attack. A question is the gentlest way to find fault in an argument. Perhaps the idea hasn’t been thoroughly thought out. Ask for more specific information. Find out what outcome is expected and how that conclusion can be reached. Oftentimes a flawed idea won’t hold up against detailed inquiries. Additionally, a conflicting notion of context can usually explain the differences between how you see a problem and how an employee may see the same situation.
Encourage open lines. Let your employees speak freely and share their entire arguments before responding. When you think someone has wrapped up, ask, “Do you have anything else to add?” And before you end a particularly heated conversation, always try to validate what the other person has said. Gossip and grudges can quickly erode company morale.
Don’t win for the sake of winning. The vast majority of entrepreneurs are extremely competitive. Who doesn’t love to win? But winning can come at a cost. Don’t sacrifice the morale of your entire team or the respect of a valued employee just because you won’t admit you were wrong. Whenever possible, merge ideas and form a compromise. Combining the best aspects of each argument can often yield an ideal solution.
Explain your reasoning. If you’re forced to make an executive decision that someone strongly disagrees with, share your rationale. Explain why you feel your decision is the best one for the company and the longevity of the business. Take the time to justify your decision and you’ll earn the trust of your staff.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).