There are three basic reasons people disagree:

  1. They have not clearly heard and understood the other’s alternative and reasons for supporting the alternative. (Level 1: They are not hearing each other)
  2. They have heard and understood, but they have had different experiences or hold different values that result in preferring one alternative to the other. (Level 2: They have different values or experiences)
  3. The disagreement is based on personality, past history with one another, or other factors that have nothing to do with the alternatives. (Level 3: Outside factors)

A Sample Level 1 Disagreement

Let’s take a look at this sample level 1 disagreement.

  • Pepper:       I’ve been thinking about the problems we have been having with our performance review process, and I think I’ve come up with a solution: we should have our employees write their own reviews.
  • Michelle:     Are you out of your mind? That can’t work.
  • Pepper:       Sure it can. You said yourself that most supervisors can’t remember all the things their employees did in the prior year, and you said that last time, most of the reviews were superficial and based mostly on favoritism or on the last project people did. If employees write their own performance reviews, the focus will be on how people actually performed the entire year.
  • Michelle:     No, I don’t think so. Pepper, we have been partners for some time. But, this has to be the craziest idea you have come up with in a while.
  • Pepper:       I don’t understand why you don’t like it.
  • Michelle:     Well, can you say, “Fox guarding the hen house”? If we let people write their own performance reviews, every review will be rated “far exceeds expectations.” People won’t admit their failures. Plus, this approach completely disempowers the managers. The performance review is an opportunity managers specifically have to influence the performance of their people. Letting employees rate themselves eliminates this. And, what about—
  • Pepper:       Hold on a second. I’m not sure you are hearing me. I said have the employees write their performance reviews – not determine their ratings. That’s their manager’s job. But, if we have the employees write about their own accomplishments, strengths, and—
  • Michelle:     And, their areas for improvement – I get it. Then, you have the manager review what the employee wrote and make additions and changes as needed with the employee in the room. Then, the manager sets the rating. That makes sense. But, why didn’t you say that in the first place?
  • Pepper:       I did say it. You just weren’t listening. I said I wanted employees to write their performance reviews. What did you think I meant?

It’s fairly evident what Michelle thought Pepper meant. When Pepper said, “We should have our employees write their own reviews,” Michelle thought Pepper meant to have employees set their own ratings. Once Michelle understood what Pepper meant, they quickly realized they were in agreement.

Unfortunately, many level 1 disagreements are not resolved as quickly. People often argue without realizing that they actually agree. This condition occurs so frequently, that there is a name for it: “violent agreement.” As in the scenario above, when a level 1 disagreement is resolved, you will often hear, “Oh, is that what you meant? Why didn’t you say that?”

Addressing a Level 1 Disagreement: Delineate the Alternatives

Once you determine that a disagreement is not level 3 (based on personality, past history, or outside factors), we recommend that you assume that the disagreement is level 1 (information). Facilitators often can provide a great service simply by finding a way to quiet the first side and have them listen to the second side and then quieting the second side and have them listen to the first side.  Just by listening to one another, the people disagreeing often find they are not disagreeing at all! We help groups achieve this level of listening by using a process we call “delineating the alternatives.

  1. Start with agreement: “We seem to all agree that…”
  2. Confirm the source of the disagreement: “Where we seem to disagree is… Is that right?”
  3. Write the issue under discussion and the alternatives on a single flip chart. (You may choose to write them as you understand them or, alternatively, have the participants tell you what to write.)
  4. For each alternative, direct specific questions at the supporter of the alternative; record responses on the flip chart. The questions should result in the group understanding the following:

–     How much?

–     How long?

–     What and who is involved?

  1. Once each alternative is delineated, check to determine if consensus has been reached. You can do this simply by focusing on the disagreers.  If either appears to have begun transferring allegiance to the other alternative, ask in a non-threatening way if consensus has been reached.

Delineation in Action

Let’s take a look at a sample of delineation in action.

  • Terry:           If we are going to have any chance of transforming the meetings around here, we need to get everyone trained on what a great meeting is and how to create it. I understand there is a company that has a course called Facilitating Masterful Meetings, and I think we need to get everyone in training as soon as possible.
  • Jordan:        Everyone in training? Surely you’re kidding. We can’t train everyone in our organization. Maybe just the executives and managers. They are the ones who lead most meetings.
  • Terry:           No, we can’t limit this. It’s not just the executives and managers who lead meetings. And, just about everyone participates in one or more meetings every week. Everyone needs these skills. Everyone should take the course.
  • Jordan:        When we do training, it has to be focused on the people who will get the most out of it. It never ceases to amaze me how you folks in HR want to get everybody involved in everything. You all need to keep in mind that this is a business. Training is an expense, not revenue, and it hurts revenue when you take people away from their real jobs.
  • Terry:           Don’t lecture me. I know about finances. The problem is that you guys in the field don’t have a clue about what it means to empower people. If you took the time to make people feel like they are a part of the organization, you might be able to do something about your horrendous turnover problem.

This disagreement is going downhill fast. On the surface, it looks like a classic clash of perspectives, with the person in the field valuing operations and the human resources representative valuing people. Take a look at how the facilitator uses delineation to get this resolved.

  • Facilitator:   Let’s slow down for a minute. It seems like you both agree that meeting training could help us, is that right?
  • Terry:          Definitely.
  • Facilitator:   Where you seem to disagree is on who should take the course?
  • Jordan:        That’s right.
  • Facilitator:   So,  Terry,  you  are  saying  that  everyone  should  take  the course.
  • Terry:           That’s right. (Facilitator labels the first column “Everyone.”)
  • Facilitator:   And, Jordan, you are saying something different?
  • Jordan:        Yes, I think only key managers should take the class. (Facilitator labels the second column “Key Managers.”)
  • Facilitator:   Terry, you said everyone would take the meetings course. How would it work? How many people is that?
  • Terry:          All 600 of our employees.
  • Facilitator:   Would each one take the full two-day course?
  • Terry:           No. I would want the vendor to create a special half-day class for our people so that they wouldn’t have to spend so much time away from work.
  • Jordan:        A half-day course? Why didn’t you say that? I have no problem with that. We can make that work.

Disagreement resolved.

In this case, Terry and Jordan were in violent agreement. They were arguing because they had made assumptions about what the other meant. Delineation solves this. If after delineating alternatives, the group has not reached agreement, you can now be sure that the disagreement is level 2 (based on different values or experiences) and then apply a level 2 strategy to facilitate the group to consensus taught in our facilitation training.

Learn and practice more consensus-building skills plus other critical facilitation techniques in our courses, The Effective Facilitator (four-day comprehensive training) and Facilitating Masterful Meetings (two-day fundamental training).  These courses both provide a structured framework for leading teams and facilitating meetings to achieve better productivity, collaboration, and results with your group.