What if Agreement Stopped Being the Goal?


Consensus Isn’t the Solution…

I’m helping a colleague out with an event—Good to Great: Leadership That Makes the Difference (although the title is irrelevant!)—and we met yesterday to walk through the activities we wanted to do with the group.

Towards the end of our time together, the conversation strayed into what the participants might see and where we wanted to point them. We started to talk about losing attachment to our own perspective and how to listen to the person in front of us.

We talked about empathy and how, ironically, the effort to see someone else’s perspective can keep us focused on the content of that perspective, and how we relate to it, rather than what’s probably better described by ‘compassion’—looking to the person beyond their point of view.

I made a comment about where I thought compassion came from and he responded,

Oh I completely disagree with that!

Without a thought, I said,

Stop right there! That’s a perfect example of where you and I don’t have to be in agreement. We’re not teaching, we’re certainly not adding more information, we’re helping people have insights, and it might be fascinating to bring that to the group as a question rather than a fact.

Insights Drive Change…

Now, it’s easy to say, ‘yes sure, this is a teaching environment where you don’t need to reach agreement’. but I think it spills over to more places than we realise.

This interaction with my colleague made me realise how often we search for consensus in our interactions with someone, rather than see, and hear, the person in front of us. It isn’t that we’re unwilling to disagree, but we seem to act as if the purpose of a disagreement is to find a way through to some common ground, or a compromise.

We have so much attachment to our opinions, to what we (think we) know, to our beliefs and judgements, our knowledge and our expertise.

We have so much attachment to those things, we don’t realise that we don’t allow our colleagues and friends to have their own opinions; opinions that don’t define the person, because opinions come and go as their perspective shifts and thought moves through them.

Drop the Dislike for Disagreement…

What if we simply dropped our obsession with agreement?

In any human interaction, the starting point should be to look for a point of connection and looking for agreement can take us far away from simply being with another human.

I bet if you look closely at your interactions, and those of the people around you, you’ll be surprised how often we and they search for consensus (or notice its absence) rather than see, and hear, the person in front of us.

Value the Person, Not the Idea…

What’s more important in human interactions, at work, at home, at the supermarket check-out, is to see and value the life behind the opinion.

Sure, at some point you might need to reach an agreement on what action to take, just as my colleague and I did, but for now, maybe it’s time to practice listening beyond the words instead of listening to the words?

And to practice not being so attached to what you think…

Let me know how you get on!

With love,