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As an executive, you have inevitably had disagreements with other executives who are peers or direct reports. These differences in perspective are natural parts of business relationships just like they are any other relationships. Research by CPP provides evidence of this with its finding that 85 percent of employees deal with disagreement on a regular basis.

Disagreement handled in the right way can be extremely beneficial, because it can result in better solutions. On the other hand, mishandled disagreement can manifest itself in ways that can be less productive. In fact, 56 percent of employees who participated in the CPP research reported that poorly handled disagreement at the senior executive level can have an adverse effect on the organization. This is especially true when it comes to major decisions involving budgets, business plans and strategies.

One of the less productive ways mishandled disagreement can manifest itself is in the form of resistance. This could be an outright rejection of other perspectives or a refusal to take action on a critical plan. A more subtle way this disagreement can play out is by executives doing the bare minimum needed to provide evidence that something has been done. Although these individuals may believe this “minimum tactic” is a sound one, most savvy colleagues recognize it is an indirect or passive form of resistance.

If these leaders see the big picture and realize that the “organizational train” is leaving the station and will quickly pick up speed, this may be enough to negate the resistance and get them on board. If this does not happen, resistance can become an obstacle to organizational necessities such as launching an enterprise-wide initiative, finalizing a business plan or executing a corporate strategy. This result can have career implications for the executives. Here are some examples:

  • Frustration builds to the point that the executives decide to find new organizations to call home
  • The organization decides the executives no longer fit their current roles and either redeploys them inside the organization or transitions them out of it

In order to help prevent disagreement from becoming resistance, here are potential starting points that have provided positive outcomes for executives:

Set the stage for dialogue

  • Genuinely explain that you want to find a mutually-productive path forward

Put the moose on the table

  • Tactfully share your perspective on the issue at hand

Seek out underlying interests

  • Recognize that the viewpoint an individual adopts is usually driven by a foundational, less apparent concern that needs to be addressed

Provide clarity

  • Make expectations, accountabilities and potential implications known

Act fairly and decisively

  • Remain objective as the dialogue proceeds and take action without hesitation once the path forward has been identified

Check in

  • Circle back on a periodic basis to ensure all parties are satisfied that progress is being made and to make any needed adjustments


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Interactive Dialogues on the Way Forward ITU, Flickr)