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Disagreements, Ping-pong, and Collaboration

You are driving along with your partner on your day out together and attempting to collaborate about where you would like to go out to eat.  The tension of driving and traffic is requiring part of your attention and your empty stomach is taking even more.  This is not a set-up for collaborative success.  In an ideal world you would have done some collaborative decision making before driving.  

Regardless, here you are in the car.  Your partner offers a suggestion and you say no and offer a counter suggestion, your partner says no to your idea, and offers something else.  This disagreement ping-pong happens three or four times until one of you reacts.  The reaction is either a lashing out with criticism or a shut down into a "whatever" attitude.  Your fun outing has just deflated into empty disconnect.

What can you do to stay connected and collaborative when you disagree?  At the foundation of effective collaboration is the ability to honor the other person's expression.  When your partner says, "What about going to Thai Kitchen?" he or she is making an offering.  Any expression, no matter how mundane the content, is an offering or a sharing of your partner's experience.  When your immediate response to your partner's offering is to state your contrary opinion ("Yuck, not that place!"), the emotional and energetic impact on your partner is a sense of being pushed away or dismissed, leaving him or her feeling hurt because of an unmet need for honor.

So how can you disagree and still honor your partner's expression?  Let's name two ways.  First, just pausing for a moment to acknowledge your partner's offering is often enough.  You might say something like, "Oh yeah, I remember you saying before that you like that place.  Hmm, I really want to go somewhere you are excited about.  (Then share what about the offering doesn't work for you).  I am nervous about Thai Kitchen though because I think they use MSG which makes me a bit sick.  Are there any other Thai places that come to mind?"  This one or two sentence acknowledgment is especially useful when you are in the car and wanting to decide as you drive.  Receiving your partner's offering with acknowledgment before sharing your view supports you both in staying open to creative collaboration.  

When you are not in the pressured situation of driving and wanting to decide something on the go, greeting your partner's offering with curiosity is another way to meet a need for honor.  It might sound something like this, "Thai Kitchen, huh, what do you like about that place?"

Honoring your partner's offering in either of these ways requires mindfulness.  When you hear something from your partner you don't like, the impulse to push it away arises.  Being mindful you can watch this aversion arise and let it move through without acting on it.  This gives you the space to act on your intention to honor your partner's offering.  You can then check-in with yourself and find out what you do want rather than just pushing away what you don't want.


This week practice noticing the impulse to push away something you don't like.  Pushing away might look like complaining, stating a contrary opinion, making a disgust face, looking away, etc.  As you notice the impulse to push away let yourself feel the aversion for even three breaths before taking any action.

More articles about disagreements:

Disagree and Celebrate Anyway

Working Too Hard: Managing Connection vs. Managing Content (part 1 of 3)

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