Blog Sophie Arends: dare to disagree!

In group work, you probably want to avoid conflicts as much as possible. However, people who disagree seem to be the leaders of the future. Why do we want to be right, and why do we fear to be wrong? And how can we approach conflicts in a different way than we are doing now?

The feeling of being right (or wrong) is a wide social problem. Think a moment about how it feels to be right. Feels good, right? But how do you react on someone who is ‘wrong’ in your eyes? You think this person is either ignorant or an idiot. Therefore we treat each other horribly; we attack others and make them feel embarrassed. Conflict actually is the main reason why people leave their jobs for new ones, or it’s the reason why marriages break up. However, difference in opinion is inevitable, because never expressing your feelings does not work either. Therefore, we need to reconsider how we approach conflicts and how we can take away the assumption of ‘I am right’. Here are some tips:

            1. View conflict as a constructive

When a conflict arises, step out of your assumption that there is a win and a lose side of the conflict. Think of a conflict as a ‘no-lose’, because the goal is to find a solution to the conflict that meets the needs of both people. This requires some adaptive behaviors, such as the willingness for both people to engage in mutually searching for a solution. Besides, it takes some serious skills in problem solving and communication. And you can only gain these skills by experience, so embrace it when a conflict arises.

            2. Switch perspective

It is important to listen with empathy to find out what the other person needs, feels and beliefs. Ask questions and summarize what the other person is saying to see whether you understood correctly. When you do this, something magical happens when this person feels truly understood and accepted. They will not react as angry as they did before.

            3. Tell the other person how you truly feel

After emphasizing, you can tell the other person how you feel, without any blame towards the other! Talk from an ‘I’ perspective to prevent yourself from blaming the other person of anything. After doing so, you can start finding a solution that fits both needs.

Applying these tips into practice can be quite hard, so try to take small steps. For example, start with viewing conflict as a constructive. When that works, try to switch perspective and when you feel like managed this, apply the last step! And most importantly: reflect on how you approached a conflict and how you can do it better next time!

Good luck!

Sophie Arends
Head of Communication