Chain of Thought

A Disagreement about Disagreement

All companies big and small invest a lot of passion in mastering the arts of material handling and logistics. The way the economy has been, these disciplines offer a wealth of opportunities for cutting waste and slowing or stopping the flow of red ink. But passion can often lead to disagreements about the best approaches.

Should we automate or do we need to make better use of our existing labor?

If it's the latter, how far can we push people to be more productive before safety is compromised?

And if we start monitoring and measuring performance, should we celebrate achievement or punish the lack of it?

If it's the latter, how diplomatic do we need to be with the employee—or his union?

These are all debatable issues, but debates often turn into arguments among managers and supervisors—and even with employees. The recent spate of Republican debates, and even the debates on Capitol Hill about extending tax cuts, offer good examples of how not to behave. And with Cyber-Bullying being the latest hot topic in the mass-media outlets, you would think social media forums would offer more of the same.

But the other day, a loyal reader of this blog, Stafford Sterner, president of SJF Material Handling Inc., invited me to check out an “Open Forum” discussion on “The Art of Disagreement.” It was initiated by Rajesh Setty, whose bio says he's an entrepreneur, author and speaker based in Silicon Valley. He offers the following seven ways to disagree with someone “gracefully:”

1. Plan to disagree [gracefully] long before the conversation takes place.

2. Mentally clarify the purpose of your disagreement.

3. Clearly show that the focus is on the issue at hand.

4. Get explicit permission to disagree. (which, if I read him right, is a kind of civil preamble before addressing the issue)

5. Ask for alternate options from the other person. (“Ask them about the details of their plan so that they're forced to think them through,” Setty suggests. “Oftentimes the other person will change his opinion as he realizes the flaws in his proposition.”)

6. Use analogies extensively. (Start with an analogy that will immediately take the other person to a place that's familiar to him.)

7. Save their face in public but send a clear message in private. (in private, they should know that their thinking was flawed and that they need to work on “getting better.”)

After reading through this list the first time I felt like something was missing. Then it came to me: What if YOU'RE the one whose thinking is flawed? Failure to consider that option is the cause for all of this world's conflicts. So I had to post a number 8 for Mr. Setty to consider:

Be ready to admit YOU are wrong. Listen carefully to the other person's point of view and look for points you've never considered before. You might have to say, "let me think about that for a day or two," and then really challenge those points inside your mind. Do some research to hear other viewpoints as well--then come to a conclusion. Then if you determine that you WERE wrong, tell that person. He or she will only respect you more.

And with that little speech as we head into the homestretch to Christmas and New Year's Day, on behalf of the staff of Material Handling & Logistics, I wish you peaceful, happy holidays, free of all conflict—except that offered up by the NFL.

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