When we debate substantive issues with others at work, and progress towards resolution stalls, we sometimes suspend open debate. Meanwhile, though, the debate can continue in our minds, or privately among like-minded colleagues. One focus of ongoing private debate is a series of attempts to explain why those on the other side disagree. Ironically, many of the more popular explanations perhaps tell us more about ourselves than they do about the behavior or obstinacy of those with whom we disagree.
In what follows, I'll refer in the first person to those offering explanations — "us," "our," and "we." I'll refer in the third person to "our" debate opponents — "they," "their," and "them."
- They're being illogical
- Do we really believe that their capacity for logical reasoning is insufficient for this particular task? Really?
- What appears as a logical flaw in their thinking can actually arise from information we ourselves lack or have forgotten. Or possibly, someone else is actively concealing that information. When logical errors seem like the best explanation, search instead for forgetfulness, deception, self-deception, hidden agendas, or blind agendas.
- They're being hypocritical or inconsistent
- When it seems that they're applying a standard inconsistently, especially for their own benefit, hypocrisy is a possibility. But do they really think so little of our powers of perception that they believe we won't notice?
- Explanations of others' behavior by which we place ourselves in morally superior positions deserve close scrutiny. Examine carefully the argument that they're being inconsistent. Is all the evidence available and valid? Is there no other interpretation of that evidence?
- Our arguments are weak
- Perhaps they disagree because our arguments are weak or flawed in some way. An indicator of this explanation is the urge to perfect one's arguments and try again.
- If we've Explanations of others' behavior
by which we place ourselves in
morally superior positions
deserve close scrutinybeen careful, our arguments are probably correct. A more likely possibility is that we haven't evaluated our arguments from our debate opponents' perspective, which can include false assumptions or outdated or incorrect information. Check that the arguments address such matters effectively.
- Our arguments are sound, but they don't understand
- Perhaps they just can't follow our arguments. Really? Are they so challenged mentally?
- This is another explanation that is as dubious as it is self-serving. If they're unable to follow the thread of our arguments, perhaps the problem is that we're expressing them poorly. Even worse, perhaps our approach is condescending or offensive in some other way. If what we say moves them to anger, it is our own actions that may be compromising their ability to think clearly.
Finally, when we suggest that our failure to resolve the issues in question is evidence of our opponents' corruption, we're adopting a very risky position. If we're mistaken, we've placed in jeopardy our relationship with our debate opponents. Damage can be permanent. If we're correct, then we have a problem more severe than our inability to resolve the question at hand. Attend to that instead. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Conflict Haiku
- When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing
that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups
into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
- When You Can't Even Think About It
- Some problems are so difficult or scary that we can't even think about how to face them. Until we can
think, action is not a good idea. How can we engage our brains for the really scary problems?
- False Consensus
- Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus
about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace,
but that trouble is often avoidable.
- A Critique of Criticism: I
- Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience
pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to
increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
- Stalking the Elephant in the Room: I
- The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking,
and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging
elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.