In some languages, the word “disagreement” and the word “confrontation” are the same. For example, in Spanish, a discussion is una pelea, a fight.
How can we have a civilized, constructive exchange from which all parties learn and thus reach a better decision? It depends on the words we choose.
Words evoke maps in our minds. They mean something, and these meanings can differ from one person to another, from one culture to another.
When you say “I disagree” to someone who has already made up their mind, what happens? You are confronting their judgement and challenging their decision. They have already decided. They are like a train that has left the station and is advancing full-speed to destination. When we decide, we are committed to that decision. We are now closed-minded. We left the railway station and can take no more passengers. The person disagreeing with you is like a person standing in front of the train, trying to stop it. You want to run him over, don’t you? You are upset. You don’t like their disagreement. Their disagreement is challenging the decision you have already made.
In the Adizes methodology, it is forbidden to use the phrase “I disagree.” You have to pay a penalty if you do.
Why? Because it’s not up to you to disagree unless you’re an equal partner and have the right to stand in front of the train and stop it from leaving the station. If you’re just a participant in decision making, disagreeing is an unnecessary, uncalled-for challenge.
The words we use are “I have relevant information for your consideration,” or “I’ve been thinking over different alternatives for your consideration.” We also say, “I have some questions which may impact your decision” or “I have some doubts I would like to share because I’m worried they might affect your intended outcome.”
With these word choices, you communicate that you still believe the train has not left the station, that you can contribute to the decision making without challenging the decision-maker.
Challenges call for a counterattack. When people feel challenged, they will challenge back. It can become a shouting match. For constructive management, you must be careful with the words you use and how you share information.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes