Reality Check: Opinions at Work

Last post, I introduced Kris and Ollie—two people with different opinions. There are many types of relationships where you can find differing opinions. Today, I’ll look at Kris and Ollie as coworkers.
The two were getting along fine until one day at coffee break. An issue came up where they took opposite positions. They looked at each other in disbelief. “How could someone I thought I knew be so wrong?” they both wondered.
Now, Kris and Ollie barely speak. While they were never close friends, this difference has affected how they work together. The atmosphere has moved from easygoing toward hostility.
What to do? We could start by asking whether Kris and Ollie both want to address the conflict. They don’t have to. Put bluntly, they’ve been brought together to do a job for which they are paid. We don’t necessarily get to work with people who agree with us.
Therefore, one option is to choose to focus only on the job, agree to disagree about the issue, and let it go. Part of agreeing to disagree includes the choice of whether to drop the hostility. Having different opinions doesn’t demand that we be hostile. It’s a choice. We can still act nicely—if we want to.
However, it’s possible that both Kris and Ollie believe that they would like to “clear the air” and discuss the issue. If so, here are suggestions that could help reduce rather than inflame the conflict.
First: look for commonalities. While it might seem that the shortest path to understanding would be to discuss the issue directly, if this is hot button emotional issue, it could be better to first work on trust. One way to establish trust is to find areas where you genuinely agree.
If Kris and Ollie were friendly enough to be suddenly shocked by a difference, then it’s quite possible that they also share many beliefs. Like what?
They work together. Thus, they may have similar views about the value of work in their lives. Maybe they agree on work ethic. How about personal lives? Do they share views on importance of family? What are their views on helping others? How about views on acceptable behaviour? Any shared interests or activities?
We can always find areas of dispute. But, if we choose to look, we can likely also find areas of agreement. If this exploration is done with good will and openness, conversations become much more interesting than the usual superficial ones.
Second: Limit labeling. It’s easy to separate people into “Us” and “Them.” We’re good; they’re bad, stupid, disgraceful. Attaching a derogatory label to someone who holds a position different than ours will not help us come together, will it?
Third: Reduce exaggeration. It can be tempting to make your case by taking the other’s position to an absurd extreme. Listen, rather than leaping to the worst possible interpretation.
Finally: Cultivate goodwill. Choose to be friendly despite your differences. It’s better if both parties participate, but somebody has to start. It could be you.
These suggestions are all easy to say but can be hard to do. If all this sounds too complicated, just try goodwill—genuine friendliness. It won’t hurt, and it could help.

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