Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anatomy of a Disagreement



I was in a meeting last night that finished with emotions high - and not in the "we're in this together, friends for life" kind of way.  Ok, ok - I was one of the people in the room in an emotionally elevated state.  I'm a coach, not a saint, and the issue being discussed was extremely important to me.  I went to the meeting thinking that the group was about to make a big mistake, and I didn't want them to proceed.  I thought - and still do - that if they do what they say they are going to do, they are going to reap negative consequences for the foreseeable future.  I went to take a shot at convincing them to change direction.

As I was thinking of this "discussion" on the way home and in my dreams, even waking up thinking about it this morning, I replayed and dissected it.  I know that I went in to say my piece, and listening was on my agenda primarily to determine when to speak and how vigorously I needed to do so.  I can say to you without being disingenuous that I was looking for an alternative path for the group to take - not only to say that I didn't think the current one was right.  I use the term right intentionally - because in my view the situation at hand was a matter of values that collided with mine, and I perceived that I was not alone in the room.

So why did I, someone not usually part of this group, show up to say my piece?  In my view, there are situations in which the greatest manifestation of loyalty is vigorous protest.  I was taking a risk that I would not be heard, and I was gambling that other people around the table would misperceive that my intention was to attack, not to help.

I looked at Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement this morning, trying to see at what level the discussion revolved.  Most of the interaction revolved around counterargument and refutation (near the top of the pyramid, and more valid disagreement.) What took things downhill was when my assertion, and related ones by people who agreed with me, were contradicted without evidence, or with faulty evidence.  Our protests hit a brick wall, our words bouncing off of it like so many sand fleas.

As emotions heightened, one party characterized my actions and those of others in the room as "You have been picking on me for two months!"  The person was responding to their perceptions of the tone, and certainly to the persistence, of the resistance they were receiving from several parties there.   As we went back and forth without making headway, there was a point at which I stated my own assessment of the situation out loud, saying, "I hear the sound of a speeding locomotive, and I don't like it."  Perhaps that could be construed as name calling, but I was talking about the decision process, not about the person.  At least I think that's the case - I was getting pretty agitated.

Would I do a rewind of my participation in that meeting?  I don't think so.  Was it my shining moment?  I think it depends upon your point of view in the situation at hand.  There were people that I was defending, and I am glad that I went to the mat for them.  Could I have disagreed with this person in a less public setting?  Perhaps, but it was my belief - and still is - that my concerns would be unacknowledged and undocumented doing it in that way.

I know I was not the only one in this group sharing the same view.   This was not a matter of one person trying to change the direction of the boat, although in cases of right and wrong I believe that being in the minority doesn't mean you should stand down and be quiet.   Once I said my piece in that meeting - a few times in different ways - likeminded people started to emerge from the crowd, willing to speak out in the same vein that I did.

I don't know yet whether my sticking my neck out and risking making some enemies will change anything.  At this point the outcome of the situation is out of my hands.  But even if the wrong decision is made, and the consequences start rolling in - I'll know in my heart of hearts that I did everything I could to prevent it.  In my view, that's a worthwhile disagreement to be having.

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