In my previous post, I blogged about the three basic reasons people disagree.  That is, people tend to disagree for one of three reasons generally and, more often than not, due to the first reason below:

  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 3 Disagreement

The facilitator has techniques to address the first two reasons.  However, a disagreement based on personality or past history (level 3) cannot be resolved in a session.  Therefore, it is important that you determine the source of the disagreement as quickly as possible to avoid wasting time. Take a look at the example that follows.

Sean:          If our team is going to be successful with making major improvements to our performance review process, we should look at three to seven organizations known to do it well and identify their best practices.

Chris:          That’s a stupid idea. There is no way that will work.

Sean:          Sure it will. We did something similar where I last worked. We just need to make sure we identify the right organizations.

Chris:          No, it won’t work.

Sean:          I don’t understand why you are being so difficult.

Chris:          Because it won’t work.

Facilitator:   You may be right, Chris. It might not work. So, what do we have to do to make it work?

Chris:          There’s nothing we can do. It just won’t work.

Facilitator:   Okay… Well, how about explaining what’s wrong with it?

Chris:          Everything is wrong with it. It just won’t work.

Facilitator:   Help us understand, Chris. Why are you so convinced it won’t work?

Chris:          It just won’t work. He thought of it. It won’t work!

As you can likely detect from this example, the problem Chris has with the best practices idea doesn’t seem to have much to do with the idea at all. Chris appears to believe that the problem is Sean, the person offering the idea. As it turns out, Chris learned some time ago that when he was interviewing to join the organization, Sean was one of the few people not in favor of hiring him. Since learning this information, Chris has felt any suggestion made by Sean couldn’t possibly work.

Addressing a Level 3 Disagreement: Take it to a Higher Source

How do you recognize a Level 3 disagreement?  If the argument of one or both parties seems to be irrational or if one or both parties seem to have little commitment to trying to find a solution, then the disagreement is likely based on personality, past history, or some other outside factor that has nothing to do with the issue under discussion.  If this is the case, you can’t solve the disagreement by talking about the issue.  Why?  Because the disagreement has nothing to do with the issue.

Accordingly, consider the following course of action:

  • Take a break. Meet with the parties privately to indicate to them you do not believe the issue can be solved in the session.
  • Seek agreement to go to a higher source together for resolution outside the session. In essence, let a higher level in the organization make the decision by having both parties go to the source together to explain the issue.
  • Don’t attempt to resolve the issue during a group session! Typically, issues based on personality or past history take more time than you can afford to give.

Learn more ways to address disagreement and other group facilitation techniques in our courses, The Effective Facilitator and Facilitating Masterful Meetings.  You will learn an approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings with vital techniques for getting amazing results from your groups.