While many like to speak of change resistance, I prefer to refer to those who are uninformed about a change and thus need to know more before going forward and those who rightfully disagree with the course of action and therefore do not believe the change should go forward. In The Limits of Certainty, we addressed the challenges of communication. In this post, we’ll tackle the problem with those that disagree.
All conflict comes from just two sources. We disagree either because of perspective or because of values. If we disagree because of perspective, we can use tools to better understand each other’s perspective and decide if they are both valid ways to see the situation or if our perspective needs to be adapted to incorporate new information (see Think Again for more). Sometimes, we’ll recognize that both perspectives are potentially valid, and we don’t know which one is right. We’ll come back to this, because it’s common, and it creates the opportunity to disagree and commit.
The second cause is a difference of values. These values can range from foundational, morality-based values (see The Righteous Mind) or those which are simply things we prefer. (See Who Am I?) Of course, those changes that violate your ethical guidelines should not move forward – at least not move forward with you (see Moral Disengagement, The Lucifer Effect, and How Good People Make Tough Choices).
We’re left with two conditions where the change may not be what you believe but it’s not fundamentally in conflict with who you are. The first is when there are two possible perspectives and the second is when the change doesn’t move forward in a way that motivates you but isn’t an ethical or moral violation.
For those conditions, the key is to first ensure that you reach a solid understanding. Everyone should acknowledge the other’s perspective and their personal values and beliefs that are in play. Too often, we believe that we need to agree with the other person to acknowledge their perspective – this is not truth. If we can get to clear understanding, we’ve got a foundation to move forward – even though we disagree.
With a clear agreement about the disagreement (agreeing that we disagree), we can choose to commit. Because of positional authority, a deep-seated trust, or other factors, we can yield our beliefs and defer to the other person’s course of action. In other words, it’s possible to disagree and commit. We’re not committing to a course of action because we agree with it but rather because we respect the other party and are willing to move forward.
If you want to enable the conditions for people to disagree and commit, it starts with developing clear understanding – on both sides. Understanding is the easy part. The harder part is building the authority, trust, or respect that is required for the other person to become willing to commit to the course of action.
Of course, the strategy of disagree and commit relies upon the integrity of the person that you’re asking to disagree and commit with the course of action. If they don’t have personal integrity, then you have a larger problem than the change and may need to help to encourage them to succeed outside the organization.