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How to Move on When You Simply Can’t Agree

HR insights and tips with Jeff Havens

Hello, and welcome to another installment of HR Intervention! I’m Jeff Havens, and I’m going to confess something to you that just might blow your mind right out of your head – occasionally, my wife and I get into arguments.

I know, I know – what married couple does that? But it’s true, we do sometimes disagree. In fact, sometimes we disagree repeatedly about the exact same thing!!!! Over and over and over again, like people opening the refrigerator again to see if new food has somehow magically appeared in the last five minutes.

In our case, our argument ended the same way it always does – both of us frustrated, no progress made. It’s as though we periodically say, “Things are really going great! Too great, in fact. I wonder what we could do to screw that all up?”

I’m guessing you’ve been here before. Ours is a dumb species.

Anyway, I’m sick of having the same argument with my wife without seeing any improvement, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how to break the cycle. I think it’s safe to say that she and I are never going to agree on the thing we keep arguing about, and that sometimes happens with work colleagues as well.

So if you’re stuck in an endless cycle of disagreement with someone who is never going to see things your way, here’s what ultimately needs to happen:

Stop Expecting to Agree 

This is much different than “agree to disagree,” because that generally means, “I’m going to let this go for now, but you’re still wrong, and eventually I’ll get you to see things my way.”

You actually have to get to a point where you don’t care if the person you’re arguing with understands where you’re coming from, or why, and you also have to be able to accept that you might not understand why they think the way they do.

Obviously, this can lead to the end of a relationship, personal or professional, but it doesn’t have to. Because you can always…

Let Go of Your Anger

This one sounds all but impossible, but it’s actually not as hard as the first step. Once you’ve accepted that agreement isn’t a requirement, it’s a lot easier to stop being angry that the other person doesn’t agree with you.

In fact, this one almost takes care of itself at this point – unless you choose to hold a grudge and remain bitter, which I have certainly done myself at times. But odds are your anger will burn itself out eventually, unless you have nothing better to do than stay mad all the time. If that’s the case, I suggest you get yourself a hobby.

Focus on Results, Not Process 

This is something we are generally not great at. Most of us not only want a certain thing to happen, but we want that thing to happen in a certain way. But does that really matter as long as the thing itself gets done?

If you’re in a yes/no situation, where both sides want completely incompatible things, then your lack of agreement will probably lead to an end to the relationship.

But if you’re able to focus on a shared mutual goal – growing your business, keeping your marriage healthy, whatever – then it is possible to work together even when you don’t think the other side is working in the right way.

I’m very confident that this approach works. It has for other arguments I’ve had with other people, although I don’t think at the time I realized exactly what I was doing.

And now, for the first time in years, I’m optimistic that my wife and I are about to see some positive movement on this thing we’ve been arguing about since our fourth or fifth date. Now all I have to do is bring the subject up again so we can begin to argue again so that I can put this plan into action. I would love to skip the “so we can begin to argue again” part, but I’m not sure that’s avoidable.

Oh well. I didn’t have any other plans tonight, so let’s see what happens!

Need more tips on how to productively resolve conflicts? Check out this free guide on conflict management:

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-808-0884, email info@jeffhavens.com, or visit Jeffhavens.com.

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert