A different opinion needs not be a provocation, yet we often feel personally attacked and tend to react in one of three classical ways: we find faults in the other opinion, we display a defensive/aggressive behaviour or we insist on explaining our logic. In all three cases we let our pre-conscious biases hijack our behavior. Not surprisingly, this seldom produces constructive outcomes. But there is an alternative: we can learn to transform disagreements and conflicts in an open dialogue that leads to mutual learning and positive change.
Disagreement makes us all feel uncomfortable. This is especially true when the disagreement is about something important to us, something closely linked to our self-image, or something we have invested a great deal of energy into.
Even the best business leaders admit that they are not always able to be at their very best when faced with a disagreement in a critical area of their influence. Why?
Recent advances in neuroscience help shed some lights on this: we all have automatic pre-conscious reflexes that tend to bias our interpretation and hijack our behaviour. In particular, when it comes to meeting a different opinion, everybody experiences 3 types of “biases”.
- The Negativity Bias: Our brains are programmed to promptly spot risks and threats, a quick and effective pre-conscious protective mechanism, perfected throughout human evolution. When faced with a different opinion, we are faster in spotting its flaws than its merits. Before we become aware of what generates our actions, our reflexes induce us to remove, weaken or demolish the evident flaws. By the time we reach consciousness of our irrational negativity, and realise that our reaction is unbalanced (forgot to appreciate the merits and only focused on flaws) we have usually already ignited a very ineffective and counterproductive conversation. => WE DO OUR BEST TO INVALIDATE THE OTHER OPINION
- The Ego Bias: As part of the same protective/defensive system, we also tend to quickly label any unexpected or unfamiliar situation as a potential threat. This is also a pre-conscious reflex that activates a physiological reaction of alert (e.g. accelerated heartbeat). When we let our activated body drive our actions, we become defensive/aggressive, we may set up to defend our own position and justify it by using every “weapon” at our disposal, including history (“we have always done it like that”), alliances (“all management already agreed”), position (“I have the authority to decide”), or curriculum (“let me tell you about my experience”). Before we know it, we have moved the discussion away from the issue at hand and are busy with a useless and unproductive battle. => WE DO OUR BEST TO WIN
- The Rationality Bias: It is a deeply rooted belief that logic reasoning will give us “the universal truth”. Originated in the period of Enlightenment, this belief is actually proven erroneous. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman clearly explains how we do not form opinions from logic, but we use logic to prove our intuitions. People with different intuitions might build perfectly logic rationale to two completely different opinions, both legitimate, yet none representing the universal truth. When we act based on our erroneous belief that our logic brings us to the universal truth, we tend to over-explain our logic, we try to convince by pushing our explanation onto the other person and do not listen, hence we do not learn from other perspectives. => WE DO OUR BEST TO PROVE WE ARE RIGHT
Many of us may dislike the very thought of being the unconscious victims of these “irrational” traps, but it is only by facing the reality of our irrationality that we can shift to a more conscious choice of behaviour.
Learning to recognise our biases is the first step to transforming our reaction to disagreements and conflicts into conscious, constructive and influential behaviour.
The C.L.E.A.R.™ Mindset Method provides a framework of five simple steps to help us identify when and where these biases occur, how to overcome their influence and take full control of how we choose to behave, in order to strengthen our influence, and transform disagreements into opportunities for learning and positive change.
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A Clear Mindset
A Novel Approach To Workplace Conflict Management
by Laura Lozza