Did you know that an average employee spends 2.1 hours every week (roughly one working day a month) dealing with a disagreement or a conflict at work? Globally, 85 percent of employees have to deal with conflict of some degree “frequently” at work. No matter how much we try to ignore them, conflicts and disagreements are real. So are the efforts to resolve these and turn them around to positive outcomes. Disagreements can be handled productively and respectfully, and Matt Trombley tells us how through this TED talk.

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An active, passionate and service-driven leader currently serving as senior vice-president for Customer Remediation at Wells Fargo, Matt Trombley reflects on why disagreements happen and introduces the concept of “agonism.” He defines agonism as taking a strong warlike stance in situations that are not necessarily of that gravity or importance. Agonism is derived from the Greek word “agon” from which we get “agony.”

Why we display agonism during disagreements

Imagine a scenario where you are discussing a topic concerning your work with your manager or peer, and the conversation becomes a disagreement. Have you tried to understand why this happens? The most common answer would be a difference in perspective. However, there is also a deeper emotional reason for this.

Matt feels that disagreements happen when we hold on to two deeply held beliefs. The first is that if we love a person, we must agree with everything they do or believe. The second is that if we disagree with someone, it means we must hate or fear them. At the workplace, this would mean teaming up with or creating groups of seemingly like-minded people and ignoring any differences of perspectives that may appear.

Now that we know why disagreements happen, let’s see how best to deal with them.



Strategies to deal with agonism

Cultivating common ground: The first strategy is to focus on what you share with the other person —in other words, cultivating common ground. This means intentionally working on finding this common ground with someone. He clarifies that common ground does not mean that you totally approve and agree. He calls this searching for the one unifying thing that we have (in the relationship) that is common with another person. From a workplace perspective, this could be the common purpose or the vision you believe in.

Timeout: This strategy gives a person room to calm down, pause, breathe, and take an objective view that helps in handling agonism well and keeping relationships alive. Sometimes impulsive reactions can cause violent disagreements. This may also lead to the person becoming disengaged, feeling demotivated and can possibly lead to attrition too. Taking some time out or “sleeping over” the situation helps to think afresh. Matt says this also helps in understanding your own follies in the scenario and provides a more objective perspective.

Finding common ground and practicing “timeout” when situations heat up are gifts we give to people we care about. Whether at a personal level or at work, it is a way of saying that the relationship is more important than the things that separate us. By learning to adopt these practices, we can agree to disagree better, and extract positive outcomes out of these situations.

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