When Business Couples Disagree

When Business Couples Disagree

When business couples talk about their “communication problems,” often what they’re really referring to is what happens when they have a disagreement. They haven’t practiced the skills of fighting fair or learned how to “disagree agreeably,” as the saying goes.

It’s been a long time ago now, but Margaret was a Communication major in college. When working with business couples, she still pulls from her early training, and one of the things she’s shared with dozens of couples is this:  Never address a conflict at the level where you see it.

In a disagreement, what you see and hear on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg. On the surface is where we get stuck in an endless loop of defending our own positions. It’s far better to move off the sticking point to a place where you do agree.  Here’s what it looks like:

We have a meeting with our biggest supplier to negotiate our annual agreement. You show up at 2:30, and I show up at 3:00. During the first few minutes, you’re fuming that I was late and I’m miffed that you had it wrong on your calendar. We’re mentally distracted and not plugged in to this important discussion.

When our supplier steps out to get some files, we argue in hushed tones about the correct time of the meeting. It’s obvious we’re working with different Information and each of us is firmly convinced we’re right. But we’re not getting anywhere and the supplier will be coming back any minute. So we take a deep breath and go back to the place of our agreement:  This meeting is critical and we agreed on a Strategy is to present a united front. Since we’re both here now, let’s come together and take care of business.

That simplistic example illustrates the principle of going back to go forward:

  • If you’re arguing about Information, go back to Strategy.
  • If you’re arguing about Strategy, go back to Goals.
  • If you’re arguing about Goals, go back to Values.
  • If you’re arguing about Values, maybe you shouldn’t be in business together in the first place.

This Week:  Think about a recent conflict. At what level did it occur? What could you have done to go back to go forward?

Never address a conflict at the level where you see it.