As a leader in any domain, you’ll come across disputes among the people you lead. It quickly becomes difficult to make educated judgments on which side of the argument may be right. No matter how much evidence is presented to you, you should fear labeling some things as true and others as false. You don’t have the all-knowing ability to understand absolute truths around you no matter how irrefutable the evidence presented seems to be. With this caution guiding your careful treading of arguments within your team, your most immediate goal should be to settle the dispute in question. A dispute unsettled is a dispute which carries the capacity to grow large. It can distract others from the immediate tasks that need to be done and can grow into being hurtful, violent, and unproductive.
You’ll come across disputes that may seem unbelievably complicated to navigate. Issues such as gun-laws, stances on immigration, and geopolitical strategy have opposing sides willing to argue and present their evidence to no end. Being swayed to one side or the other must be a willful decision rather than one of being manipulated by loudest side. In these confusing realms therefore, it is imperative to seek common ground between opposing sides. There will be areas of agreement among the people behind each side of any dispute you witness. These people’s search for truth is similar in some ways and differs in other specific areas of their beliefs. If you figure out where two sides of an argument come together, you’ll be influential in leading the charge towards actionable next steps.
Listen to Both Sides of a Dispute
When you find yourself amidst a heated, anger-filled dispute between others, you must remain as neutral to the situation as possible. You may have your personal views on the subject but you shouldn’t feel the need to voice these views. Keep them in your back pocket when making decisions on the matter later on. Your first priority however, should be to settle the argument presented in front of you. Heated arguments should be suppressed, and civil conversation should prevail above all.
When listening to both sides of a dispute, ensure to listen for commonalities between the two. Even though the two sides of an argument may not yet know it, they may have similar ways of thinking about specific aspects of the disagreement at hand. It is important for you to realize these similarities and keep them in mind. These similarities will be the points which you use to take actionable steps towards a possible solution which both sides agree on.
If you tackle disputes among others in an effort have one side completely agree with another, you’ll be disappointed. People are not good at admitting being wrong and fully accepting the views of another. In an effort to seek any sort of common ground between the two, you should start with small aspects of the argument that both agree with and build from there.
Eliminate the Fear of the Other
You should also try to listen for elements of fear present in the two sides of a heated dispute. Fear of the other side is a common incidence in heated disputes, and is generally driven by a lack of experience, understanding, and knowledge of the other side. The two sides of the gun debate for example, both have their fears. One side fears the destructive capabilities of guns, and the other fears the stifling of freedoms as they’re laid out in the respective U.S. amendments. Both of these sides can be helped in lowering their emotional responses by way of education and experience.
Anti-gun activists can lower their inhibition towards all weapons by being exposed to, in a cordial manner, the gun culture. Whether that be real-life stories of how people got started shooting guns, or instances in which guns legitimately served their purpose in protecting families. Eliminating fear of the other involves showing the human element behind any stance in question. When this fear is eliminated, the argument becomes more understanding and less reactive. You will have more success unifying two sides of a heated dispute if you work to eliminate the fear they have of each other.
Form a List of Commonalities and Present Them in a Plan Going Forward
Once you’ve listened to both sides of the argument with an unbiased frame of mind. It comes times to form the list of commonalities that you’ve heard. These commonalities are things you are hopeful that both sides agree on. For example, two coworkers arguing whether to hold a large stakeholder meeting, or to meet with stakeholders one by one, both agree that proper stakeholder communication is paramount. By voicing this one point of commonality and having both of them agree on it, you’ll establish their existence as one unit rather than separate sides of an argument. The second point of commonality in this example can be the fact that stakeholder time is important. One person can argue for one large meeting in which all issues are addressed, while another can say that meeting with them separately is a better use of time.
No matter what their desire is surrounding the points of agreement, form a list of these agreements to be used to make an overall decision later on. It is difficult to say which coworkers approach is the right one in this specified instance. However, once you form a list of the things they both agree on, you may have a chance of getting them on the same page about a plan of action to tackle the issues they both agree on.
The things that both sides to a dispute agree on can be used to pull them away from their initial, more extreme, stances and form one unified approach to solving the problem. These common agreements will serve to make them forget about the things they disagreed on. If however, you find that the two sides once again begin disagreeing on how to properly solve an issue that they both agree on, you must be tactical in your approach towards finding solutions.
For the example above, even though both methods serve to remember the importance of your stakeholders’ time, the group approach may be more beneficial in getting all stakeholders on the same page. It will be less susceptible to the individual interpretation of each stakeholder and a group-wide understanding will prevail. Ask your coworkers whether this is something worth agreeing on: “Can we all agree that having our stakeholders in one room will help their understanding of the bigger picture rather than just the issues that pertain to them?” If the two sides agree to this sentiment, then you’ll have a clearer path towards a unified approach.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled on possible things that the two sides can agree on. These agreements will serve to establish a unified approach built on the very agreements that both sides to a dispute share. They will be less likely to disapprove of an approach they’ve had a hand in shaping. Even though some of their proposed arguments get left out due to not being accepted by the other side, they will be content with the structured approach of following commonalities being taken.