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The Art of Finding Agreement

Dilbert cartoon on finding agreement. Credit Scott Adams

Agreement or disagreement in the workplace 

Finding agreement when disagreement runs rampant or deeply is a career-making skill! Let’s start by defining what we mean by disagreements in the workplace. It can be as simple as two individuals with differing perspectives, where neither of them is able, or willing, to see the issue from the other’s point of view. This is often the reason why many workplaces discourage discussion on non-business, and controversial, matters like religion or human rights. Whether this business decision is helpful, or not, doesn’t change the need for developing the skills necessary to reach an agreement on something.

In a business setting, disagreements are most common around operating decisions. Such as how to integrate a strategic acquisition, how to optimize the supply chain, or how to account for a complex customer contract. At some point we are inevitably in a meeting where differences of opinion emerge, we can either freeze with discomfort or we can mobilize our human skills to establish agreement on a way forward.

Careers thrive because of this skill, so let’s see how it is done…

The basic “rules” when seeking agreement

The art of finding agreement builds on some sensible “rules”, perhaps better described as “guidelines” as Captain Jack Sparrow might say! 

  1. Listen to and respect the other person
  2. Be prepared and willing to strategically concede something
  3. Be assertive 

What do these “rules” look like in practical terms?

Listen to and respect the other person

Listening is all about getting to know your audience (aka the other person). This step is important for us to understand who we are engaging with (one or many). This understanding reveals a roadmap through which we can connect our objective (or message) to the other person’s priorities, needs, wants, etc. The more we establish a mutually aligned outcome, the more likely we are to find agreement together.

Respect is about us not leaping to conclusions. When a person reacts, it is important that we avoid assumptions about their motivations or intellect. A more effective strategy is to assume that the person is smart and is motivated by something not yet visible to us. In this strategy, our job is to listen and try to understand where they are coming from.

Prepare and be willing to strategically concede

This step starts with being crystal clear about what we want to achieve ourselves. As obvious as this sounds, it is amazing how many individuals go into a discussion that requires negotiation to get to an agreement and are fuzzy about their bottom lines. A helpful question to check this for yourself is:

  • Can you boil down your objective into a clear and simple statement? 

This clarity will help the other person know what they are ultimately being asked to agree to. This also plays a key role in our decision to concede elements along the way. How? By pre-deciding on our bottom lines, we establish what we are willing to give up without losing sight of what matters. This strategy also helps the other person feel like they may have gained something. Something that is not a real sacrifice for us.

Be Assertive

Assertiveness centers around being constructive and inclusive in discussions. Knowing when you are seeking agreement versus consensus. You may be wondering what the difference is between these concepts. Consensus is about universal agreement or approval for something where individuals feel connected and inspired by what is collectively agreed. Whereas agreement generally adopts a majority approach where dissenting views are acknowledged before moving on.

We link this back to our objective of achieving agreement, by never losing sight of the fact that everyone in the room may have different goals. However, our role is the same: trying to help everyone get what they need to succeed.

Final thoughts on reaching agreement

So, reaching an agreement is a three-step iterative process to achieve more of the outcomes we, and others, want. By embedding these elements and the guiding “rules” to keep our minds open, we are more likely to achieve good outcomes that leave everyone involved better off.

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views and ideas on helpful ways to find agreement in the workplace or your social circles. 

Give it a try!

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