By Michael Wilkinson, Certified Master Facilitator and CEO of Leadership Strategies

Our work with hundreds of groups over the past two decades has led us to categorize disagreements into three basic categories. 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 2 Disagreement

Let’s take a look at a sample Level 2 disagreement.

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.

A facilitator should first determine if a disagreement is level 3 (based on personality, past history, or outside factor). If a level 3 disagreement, the facilitator takes it to a higher source to decide. Once level 3 is ruled out, the facilitator should assume that it is a level 1 disagreement and delineate the alternatives.

Let’s assume that the facilitator has used the delineation technique to identify how much, how long, and who and what is involved for each alternative and recorded the information as follows.

Results from Delineation
Everyone Key Managers Only
·       Sign up by team

·       2-day class

·       20 people/class

·       32 classes

·       4 classes/month

·       $9,000/class

·       Execs select managers

·       2-day class

·       20 people/class

·       6 classes (one-makeup)

·       2 classes/month

·       $9,000/class

600 people trained8 months$288,000
100 key managers trained3 months$54,000


If consensus is not reached after delineation, then the facilitator can be assured that the disagreement is level 2 (based on values or experiences) and should proceed with strengths, weaknesses, and merge.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Merge

  1. Have the entire group focus on one alternative and give the strengths of that alternative, then the strengths of the second alternative. (“Let’s take a look at each alternative starting with the first one. What are the strengths of this alternative?”)
  2. Once the strengths of each alternative has been identified, have the entire group discuss the weaknesses of each alternative. (“Now that we have identified the strengths of each alternative, let’s look at the weaknesses. What are the weaknesses of this first alternative?”)
  • It’s very important to get the strengths of both alternatives first before discussing either’s weaknesses. This method gives “value” to each alternative before the participants have an opportunity to “devalue” either through the weaknesses discussion.
  • For many disagreements, especially when there are only two alternatives, the weaknesses of one alternative are equivalent to the strengths of the competing alternative. Once the group identifies this relationship, you can save time discussing the weaknesses.
  • If there are only two people involved in a disagreement, have them give the strengths of the alternative they oppose. This approach encourages active listening and helps the parties see the other side. The supporter of each alternative then adds any additional strengths that the detractor may have missed.
  • Do not assign a supporter of an alternative to give its strengths. This method can serve to further polarize the group.
  1. Once strengths and weaknesses have been identified for each alternative, check to determine if consensus has been reached. (“Based on these strengths and weaknesses, how many now would be in favor of . . . And how many in favor of . . .”)
  2. Identify the key strengths of each alternative. (“Let’s look at each alternative and identify the one or two most important strengths.”)
  3. Create one or more new “merged” alternatives that combines the most important strengths. (”Is there an alternative that might combine these key strengths?”)
  4. Delineate the top alternative. (“Let’s delineate this top alternative to ensure that we all understand. How much . . .”)
  5. Take a consensus check. (“Based on what we have discussed thus far, how many would be in favor of . . . ?”)

When you ask people the strengths of an alternative, their responses typically represent the values they hold that result in them preferring their alternative over the other. For example, those who prefer the “Everyone” alternative place greater value on common language and everyone benefiting. Those who prefer the “Key Managers Only” alternative place greater value on saving dollars and limiting time away from work.

The merging process encourages the group to create an alternative that combines the key values of the participants. The chart that follows provides a sample of what a facilitator might record on a flip chart using the merge process, with the most important strengths identified by an asterisk (*).


Strengths: Everyone Strengths: Key Managers Only
·       Common language*

·       Everyone benefits

·       Skills throughout the organization*

·       Everyone feels valued

·       Less expensive*

·       Completed quicker

·       Less time away from work*

·       Training focused on those who need it

Merged Alternative

Provide a 2-day course for key managers and a half-day overview for all employees. Employees can choose to do the half-day as an in-class session or take the course over the Internet at their own pace.

Merging is often the key approach to creating alternatives that work for the entire group. Typically, we use the Delineate-Strengths/Weaknesses-Merge process in sequence. You may find that the group is ready to short-cut the process early and create new alternatives right away!

Skill up in more consensus-building methods like these plus other facilitation techniques in Facilitating Masterful Meetings. This two-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams through results-driven, collaborative meetings.