Is there a professional way to argue fairly?
It depends on what your definition of an argument is. When I think of arguing, I think of unfair, emotionally charged jabs at my opponent. I use big words, poke at weaknesses, roll my eyes, bring up the past, utter something about his mother, and slam the door. So, no. There’s no good way to do this at work. There are plenty fair and effective ways, however, to converse about disagreements in the workplace.
1. Focus on the positives
It is important in a workplace disagreement to identify the issue positively. Focusing on why an idea will work and not on what won’t work, and keep your arguments focused on the idea being pitched—not the person pitching it. Rather than pointing out where someone’s pitch falls short, try saying something like “your approach to this issue will solve A, B, and C, while my approach is more conducive to X, Y, and Z.” How can we merge our ideas to cover all of these?
2. Don’t take criticism personally
A true professional can both criticize and take criticism, but if you are dealing with someone who cannot not make a professional assessment of a situation without getting personal, remember what we teach our children. When a person begins to feel inadequate, s/he will begin to belittle others. If you can identify when this happening, you will be less defensive and more able to focus on the actual disagreement regardless of the other person’s behavior.
3. Set a time limit
Mentally take note of when a conversation turns to disagreement. If you are unable compromise or move past an issue in fifteen minutes, table it. Once the conversation has reached this point, it is more likely to stray off topic and participants are liable to become frustrated. Move on to the next agenda topic, break for lunch, or just say, “Let’s gather our thoughts on this subject and table it until tomorrow’s staff meeting.”
4. Don’t be the workplace gossip
This one is painfully self explanatory.
5. Don’t listen to the workplace gossip.
If it is therapeutic for you to talk about your personal or professional frustrations with someone, find someone outside of work who will listen to your rant. We all know the typical repercussions of workplace gossip. But even if you aren’t engaging in the chatter, just listening to it affects your opinion of those involved. You will bring your subconsciously formulated and unfair opinion with you into professional conversations. Perhaps you have listened to a co-worker verbally bash someone. You may find yourself backing down from that person in a workplace disagreement because you don’t want to be the victim of the next bashing. If you can’t change the subject when gossip is brewing, find a reason to walk away.