Disagreeing with you doesn’t necessarily mean I’m being disagreeable

Most people have an inherent distaste for conflict. So somewhere along the way, society concluded that disagreement is an inherently bad thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to business advice and decisions, that can be a deadly conclusion.

Despite that aversion, conflict appears to have become the norm these days. I see two factors behind that trend. First is the national political climate, which is the most polarized I can remember since Dad snarled about those damned hippies. The second is social media’s central role and its place as an arena for vicious arguments on virtually every subject, fueled by a complete lack of accountability and the delusion that having read a Facebook post on a subject confers expertise and authority.

I’ve seen those factors seeping into the way businesspeople think and operate. Most often, it happens when I’m working with a client and counsel a course of action that doesn’t match their thoughts, or when they object to the way I’ve written something on their behalf. Instead of a healthy and productive conversation, things become strained, with the object of their anxiety directed at me or someone else instead of the issue at hand.

The easiest thing for me to do is simply smile, nod my head, and go along with whatever they request. After all, they’re paying the bills. But the easy way out is rarely ethically appropriate. When someone is paying for my expertise, I’m foolish enough to assume that they want (and may even need) it. I’m not disagreeing for argument’s sake.

Whether we’re talking about attorneys, accountants, agents, or even lowly writers, those of us who provide counsel have an ethical (and often legal) obligation to act in the best interests of those we serve. Sometimes that involves advising them on the most prudent course of action. Sometimes, it demands protecting them from their own thoughts or actions. We’re expected to offer advice that best serves their needs, even if they don’t like what we have to say.

Suppose you decide to sue a competitor, and your attorney advises that you’re about to dump a large sum of money into a case in which you’re not likely to prevail. The attorney isn’t being combative. She’s using her knowledge of the law, the legal arena, and the facts of the case to assess the situation and counsel you on the most prudent course of action.

Tell your CPA you plan to write off that personal vacation to Cabo San Lucas as a business tax deduction, and when he gives you a thumbs-down, he isn’t criticizing you. He knows what the fine folks at the IRS are likely to approve and what’s more likely to end in prosecution and penalties.

When you tell someone in my line of work about the idea you have for the copy on your website’s home page, and I point out that you may not have noticed the negative message it inadvertently conveys, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I’m seeing your words through more objective eyes, particularly those of your potential audience.

In other words, disagreement from a professional you’ve hired is not creating conflict for the sake of creating conflict. If you’re reacting to disagreements as a threat, questioning your intelligence, or simply starting a fight, why are you paying for their help in the first place?

No, even the most skilled professionals don’t always get things 100 percent right. But when they offer opinions based upon their education and experience or share bits of wisdom they’ve acquired across their careers, they’re right far more often than not.

Experts who challenge you or your way of thinking aren’t trying to diminish you. Their goal is to support you, whether that involves protecting you from an unfriendly letter from the IRS or making sure your website is as communicative and persuasive as possible. I know you’re an expert in your field who deserves respect. Grant them the same respect, and your own expertise will continue to deepen and expand.

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