How to handle disagreements

By Andrew on 14th April 2017 — 2 mins read

I had an disagreement with a colleague the other day. It started quietly…

**Me**: "What happened to the <design element I liked>?"

**Colleague**: "Oh, we lost that. That came out."

**Me**: "Really. Why?"

**Colleague**: "It was causing confusion, the users we've been talking to preferred something simpler"

I had delegated this last round of research and design to two highly competent chaps in my team, but was secretly hoping that they’d keep within certain bounds and not seek to question stuff that I’d previously worked hard to establish.

I found my heels digging in.

**Me**: "Which users? How was this framed? I'm not sure that the opinions of a handful of users undermines the months of research we did earlier... I thought we'd agreed <this particular design principle>...

My colleagues started digging their heels in too.

**Colleague**: "You told us to get on with this. We've made sensible changes based on what we're seeing. Being willing to pivot is part of the deal with Discovery projects..."

Ow that last comment hurt – hard to argue with that.

But boy, did I want to.

I heard a voice in my head, telling me to take a moment to gather my thoughts.

**My inner voice**: "You're getting angry Andrew. Step back."

I didn’t step back though. I launched into an argument that brought the worst out in me and my colleague – and took a little while to recover from.

We all do this

As far as I know, we all have egos and this kind of thing is just part of intensely collaborative working environments. Looking kindly on it, we might say that it is a result of passion or of caring too much.

Nevertheless I’d love to find a better way to avoid or deal with these situations.

We all could do better

Here are a few thoughts as to how:

  • listen out for the surface things that annoy us (the things that always trigger a bad reaction in us)
  • identify the gap between the positions people take and what they’re really interested in (e.g. the story about two sisters arguing over an orange)
  • avoid appearing of certain / inflexible (saying that ‘we have a design hypothesis that we’d like to explore’ is nearly always more appropriate than saying ‘we have now established x’)
  • be willing to revisit solutions / redo work in light of new insight (even later on in projects)
  • look for ways to help others to back down without losing face
  • suggest that the conversation continue later (when the heat has died down)
Posted in: Design thinking

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