Throughout this series we have acknowledged that there are times when feedback conversations can be challenging, for many reasons. In the case of disagreement, it can be particularly difficult for the manager not to become defensive themselves. Remember, the goal is a two-way dialogue, and resist the temptation to prove you are right.
If your employee disagrees with your feedback, the first step is to seek to understand their disagreement more fully. Importantly, try distinguish between whether they are disagreeing with the facts, or whether the disagreement is an emotional response. Acknowledge their reaction gently, but don’t judge it. Show you care about their view. For example, “Ian, I recognize that this may difficult to hear and I want to make sure I understand you clearly. Could you tell me exactly what it is that you don’t agree with?”
The good news is they are engaged! The more difficult news is that you may not agree with what they are saying. Stay curious and keep asking questions based on their answers to further understand their perspective. Listen for what might be underlying their disagreement. Do they think you have misinterpreted the facts? Do they think you have misunderstood their intentions or motives? Do they think the feedback is inaccurate or unfair? Do you think they are disagreeing because they have a blind spot? What else could be going on for them? Use ‘Question Thinking’ to help you remain open minded about their opinions. Ask questions that show you genuinely want to understand their views. As you do, it will help them to become less defensive and will help to build trust for the feedback conversation.
Gently spoken questions that may help include: “Ian can you help me understand how you came to that conclusion, as I’m not sure I do yet.” “What are some other facts that we should consider?” “What different views do you think others could have on that?”
As you continue the dialogue, point out the specific facts as you understand them about issues, situations, results, and behavior. Ask for facts that support their views. As you compare views it’s important to focus on facts and avoid or probe assumptions, judgments, biases and opinions without facts supporting them. Be open to their perspective, consider its merit, and be willing to change your mind and accept it. Don’t stick to your original guns if the full story becomes clear and indicates a new conclusion.
If you don’t agree with their point of view, acknowledge it anyway. For example, paraphrase what you heard: “What I’m hearing you say is that…” and “I think I can understand how you could see it that way and I respect your perspective, and my view on this remains different than yours.” Once you have acknowledged their point of view, they may feel less defensive, and may be more open to discussing how others could see things differently. For example, “What are your thoughts about how others could see this situation differently?”
If you get stuck on a difference of opinion, look for common ground to build on. Is there anything you both agree with? Don’t try to change the person. Solve the disagreement. “Okay Ian, we seem to have different views on this one. What can we both agree on? Let’s find some common ground to build on and see where it takes us. Okay?”
Remember, it’s not your job to convince them that your point of view is correct. This will keep you stuck in a power struggle.
If you are stuck, move to the underlying issue. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much that you see it differently, it’s more about how the team is perceiving them, or about the impact the behavior has had on results. For example, “Ian, I am starting to feel like we are a little stuck on the details of this situation. Let’s pull back for a moment and consider what needs to happen for the project to stay on track (results) and/or for the team to improve communication (relationships).
As long as you remain in dialogue, you can move forward. Be open-minded and find the facts, and involve them in envisioning the desired future state. This can then be anchored back to their own part in creating it.
This is the fourth in a series of blogs to help you manage five common emotional reactions that can be triggered during feedback conversations:
- How to Deal with Emotional Reactions in Feedback Conversations
- How to Deal with Silence
- How to Deal with Crying
- How to Deal with Disagreement
- How to Deal with Taking Offense
- How to Deal with Anger