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Turn Disagreements into Wins: Find Better Solutions

We all know how stressful it is to work in the events or hospitality industry. Having deadlines, physical demands, environmental conditions, being responsible for the risks to other people’s wellbeing, working in the public eye and working with the public all adds to increased stress levels. It can be a real rollercoaster. Added to that is the inevitable disagreements that we have with colleagues, clients, suppliers, and members of the public.

In my career I can’t tell you how many difficult conversations I have had to be a part of, some have gone well, some not so well. Such as telling clients that despite all their plans they can’t do something because the risk assessment doesn’t stack up or cutting employee hours because of declining ticket sales or having to negotiate with a supplier about changing bump-in times to suit other suppliers. None of these things are fun and I am sure you could add a hundred more examples from your career.

These difficult conversations must be had though, so the event planning and delivery can continue. Sometimes you need to have an argument or disagreement to get everyone to voice their concerns, clear the air and move on. Conflict generally gets a bad rap, mainly because of the behaviour of participants not because conflict itself is a bad thing. Disagreements and arguing can be a great thing for an event team. Resolving difficult issues can really galvanise a team, it exposes each other to a diversity of thinking and helps the team to understand each other a little bit better.

As most businesses now are coming to understand diversity is a good thing and cognitive diversity results in a smarter group who will come up with better ideas. As the saying goes two heads are, better than one, and many heads are even better, especially when everyone is willing and feels safe to share their experience and opinions.

One of the worst things that can happen when deciding on how to deliver certain event elements is that people with experience or expertise stay quiet. Or the decision makers do not listen.

Another problem is "group think" may envelope a team, this is when people collectively believe or buy into the wrong decision.

I personally experienced that in 2009 when working at the MCG. Collingwood were playing Geelong in a preliminary final, it was a huge game, the public area was sold out. The MCC members area was a mix of reserved seats and general admission. Nearly 15,000 people were in the queue when we opened the gates around 4.30pm. In what is now incredulous in hindsight we convinced ourselves the crowd had all come in early. They hadn’t - and 20 minutes before the bounce the gates to the MCC Members Reserve were closed with an estimated 2,000 waiting to get in.

If only someone had argued with the group think, the gates would still have been closed but at least some more effective plans would have been implemented in the meantime.

While different opinions and disagreements can feel uncomfortable, they can help a team make progress towards a solution with innovative solutions. This is in contrast to when people have “nicer” conversations and either agree or hold back what they think.

Unfortunately, sometimes in difficult situations we lead with our ego wanting to prove we know best or to “win” the argument. We might ignore the logic behind another person’s view or dismiss evidence that should be considered. The aim of the conversation shifts from resolving an issue or solving a problem to everyone out for themselves and their own agenda.

So how can we approach conflict and disagreements in a psychologically healthy way? We need to change the way we approach disagreements and conflict. Change is difficult, training and practice is necessary for this behaviour to become the default position of the group debate. Here’s how…

Turn Disagreements into Wins: Find Better Solutions

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Remember We are all Aiming for the Same Goal

Clients, freelancers, suppliers, local government representatives and even attendees – ultimately, we all want the same thing – a safe event where there are no distractions between the event and the event attendee.

Everything we are doing, all the planning, the risk assessments, the delivery, and the disagreements should be all aiming to that one goal. If that is not your goal, you are most probably in the wrong business.

By keeping the aim of your event in clear focus any conversation, any disagreement, any argument then has a different outcome. It is not about who wins or loses, it is not about who is the smartest person in the room, it is about listening to all points of view and selecting the solution that gets you closer to your aim and ensures the maintenance of trust in the relationship.

In my experience I have seen many difficult conversations where the goal seems to be…

  • To persuade people you’re right or
  • To look better than your challenger

In contrast if we want to find better solutions together, we need to set the stage by kicking off the discussion with a reminder of the shared goal.  Encourage people to use inquiry and understanding as the basis of the conversation with an emphasis that everyone is on the same team. Offer these reminders:

  • We’re here together in the spirit of inquiry, as colleagues, not opponents
  • Our shared goal is to find the best way to overcome this challenge so we can deliver an amazing event
  • All viewpoints to achieve this goal are encouraged and welcomed
  • There is no “winners” or "losers", the event wins if we make progress
  • Everyone is an equal participant, there is no hierarchy or special importance given to one person’s viewpoint over another’s
  • We need to recognise that people have varying experiences, not all will suit the situation but all of that experience is valid
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Keep it about Facts, Logic and the Specific Situation

To ensure an effective and efficient debate the hardest thing to do is to keep the conversation on track. Discussions can very quickly splinter, especially when people feel like their ideas are under attack or if they don’t feel listened to or respected. In these types of discussions regardless of how closely aligned the participants are to the overall event goal, every participant will be coming at the discussion from a different perspective.

In situations when people feel strongly about their opinions, they can subconsciously, use logical fallacies, they might dodge questions, use irrelevant or bad facts, and in the worst instances be dishonest. They can also bring in different issues which distracts from the points being discussed.

It’s important for participants to use the following rules, so bad behaviours are not displayed during the discussion…

  • The discussion is not about who cares more, who’s the loudest, who’s most powerful, or who’s the most articulate
  • No deceptive tactics – including hiding facts, not stating the truth when you know it and not leaving anything out
  • Identify facts and clarify when your comments are an interpretation of a fact
  • Identify logical fallacies
  • Analyse the evidence and the quality of the evidence, including the source. Remember the best evidence is primary evidence, whenever you can try to see the actual situation for yourself.
  • If the debate diverts into side discussions steer the conversation back to the topic at hand

Don't make it Personal

Arguments tend to go off track very quickly when people feel like their ideas, their experience or their expertise is being questioned. When emotion and ego become part of the discussion participants become more interested in protecting themselves or their ideas than looking for innovative solutions.

The most productive discussions need to have the following ground rules…

  • No name calling or personal attacks.
  • Don’t use judgemental statements or questions. Questions like “how could you believe that?” or “it's obvious, why can’t you see it?” may put the other person on the defensive. Questions using “what”, such as “what makes you feel that way?” or “what has led you to that conclusion?” are more helpful.
  • Assume that everyone’s intentions are good, and they are trying to do their best.
  • Understand that you will not lose face for changing your mind and you don’t have to be "right".
  • Encourage everyone when the discussion is moving you closer to a workable resolution, rather than when someone is “right”.
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Be Respectful

For working relationships to be truly productive, you need to be willing to respect everyone’s point of view and be prepared to change your mind or your position if someone has a better solution. Here are some tips on how you can display respect in difficult conversations…

  • Respect the experience and expertise that each person brings with them
  • Don’t take things personally
  • Actively listen to every person and their viewpoint, even if you disagree
  • Admit when you’re wrong and accept when others have good ideas or solutions
  • Be curious. Bad ideas can be useful; they can help point us in the direction of new or better solutions

Pick the Right Time

When people are under pressure, now might not be the right time for a discussion where all parties are not in agreement. In contrast waiting for the “right” time just may not be possible due to event timelines.

A simple “is now a good time to talk about…” is a great way to start a conversation in a neutral way. It demonstrates you respect the other person’s time and it also gives people an opportunity to delay the conversation so they can prepare for the discussion.

Give people time to come to the discussion with their thoughts and facts prepared, don’t blindside people by making them discuss difficult topics or things that need cognitive effort. When people are prepared for a discussion you will have a thorough discourse getting you closer to the “best” solution for the circumstances in the time you have.

When working in events or hospitality there are always going to be difficult conversations you will need to have. In time sensitive situations you will also be under pressure to resolve issues or come up solutions quickly. Sometimes you can’t wait for the perfect decision you will just have to make some decision. The more you practice discussions using these tips the better the outcome for you, the other people in the discussion and your event.  

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Lisa Price
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Lisa Price
Event Specialist
Subjects of Expertise: Event Management
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Lisa Price
Event Specialist

Subjects of Expertise

Event Management

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