Disagree on principles, not points of view

When we disagree with folks we work with, disagreements generally occur at the level of a point of view. For example, Jill might want to remove a piece of the process and Joe might want to keep it because he believes it works. Soon, emotions and egos enter the discussion and it devolves into an discussion that isn’t constructive.

The best way to make progress on such disagreements is to stop talking about the subject of the disagreement and go straight to the principle.

For instance, in the process example, they may dig one level deeper and realize that Joe operates with the assumption that – “A certain number of processes help the team function better.” And, Jill, in turn, might believe that “no processes are objectively better.”

While it looks like a stalemate, we haven’t yet reached the principle. The principle, in this case, might be – “We will have as many or as few processes as required for the team to be happy and productive.”

Two things happen when we reach the principle –

  1. More often than not, we find common ground on principles. In this case (and often), Jack and Jill likely align on the principle. This means they just differ in their assumed approach to the goal. And, that can be reconciled by testing – ask the team or experiment with a few approaches and find out.
  2. If you find yourself working opposing principles, that’s very good to know as well. Principles are fundamental truths – so, if you are working with diametrically opposite assumptions on what is a fundamental truth, then, it is likely one of you is wrong. While this is harder to resolve as it requires openness to having difficult conversations, you will at least be dealing with the real problem instead of getting emotional about points of view.

PS: For the Lean/Six Sigma fans, this is exactly what the Five Why’s technique is built to do. I’ve just found that, in practice, asking five consecutive why’s can come across as intimidating.