Disagreement In Meetings

Differing Points of View Are Natural and Good for the Team if Managed Well.

We have all been in meetings when a topic arises and the leader asks for everyone’s opinions about it, everyone says what they think, and two or more people start to disagree and things get heated.

There are typically as many different viewpoints on topics as there are participants in the meeting and most people know how to handle those viewpoints in a tactful manner. However, now and then passions rise and things start to get out of control.

The most extreme case I ever experienced was when I was just starting out in the consulting business and was observing a meeting at one of my client sites. A topic get a little out of hand and one of the senior members of the time started to get really angry.

The meeting leader tried to calm him down but he was having none of it. His face started to turn red, he was yelling at pretty much everyone in the room, got up out of his chair, walked out of the room in total frustration, and turned off the light on his way out, leaving us all sitting around a conference table in the dark. Needless to say, it was quite a learning experience about how someone can let their emotions get the best of them in a meeting.

A few thoughts for you to help you deal with meeting situations that could, or do, become heated:

Check the agenda. If you are the meeting leader, when you put the agenda together, watch for any topics that could generate some emotional discussion. Leave a little more time in the agenda for discussion around those topics and be prepared to intervene if team members start getting upset. If you are a participant, look over the agenda in advance and see if there are some topics that you feel particularly strong about. Think in advance about how you can keep yourself, and others, in check if the discussion heats up.

Listen to understand. If you get into an argument with someone in a meeting and it looks like it should be resolved during the meeting, work hard at listening to understand exactly what the other person is saying. When we get defensive or angry, it is difficult to hear what the other person is saying. All we want to do is get our point across and be heard. When two people are like that, listening to understand is especially difficult. Stephen Covey said it best, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Ground rules. As a leader, when you first start having meetings with your team, you should put together a list of ground rules for your meetings. Things like starting time, taking notes, agenda in advance, everyone participates, etc. Make sure you include in the ground rules how heated disputes should be handled. Remind everyone in advance of each meeting what the ground rules are, and put them into practice when participants start to disagree and the meeting gets derailed.

Training. If you are the meeting leader, give participants some training on how to handle conflict in the workplace. Make sure the training includes disagreements between co-workers. It does not have to be a long training, it just needs to be focused on conflict. Have a member of your team put together a mini-workshop for your team and everyone pitch in to make it work. Do this before you go pay some high-priced consultant or send your team members offsite for training.

Sharpen your intervention skills. As a meeting leader, it is your responsibility to keep meetings on track and productive. When arguments happen and it becomes clear that the participants are getting out of control, you must get them back on track. All of the other participants are looking at you to take control. If you do not, not only will the meeting be lost, your leadership skills will be put into question.

Remember, disagreement among employees is healthy and that is where growth and new ideas come from. When that disagreement gets out of hand, it must be corrected quickly. There is a part for everyone to play in making disagreements end up productively. Good leaders know how to make win-win situations arise out of conflict.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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