My Product Management Toolkit (51): Thoughtful Disagreement

I like that Ray Dalio thinks there is such a thing as ‘thoughtful disagreement’. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d probably told you that there’s no such thing as disagreeing thoughtfully. In my mind, back then, it was simple: you either agree or disagree, and that’s it.

Over the years I’ve come to agree with Ray Dalio; it is possible to disagree thoughtfully. In his book “Principles” Dalio describes thoughtful disagreement as “the process of having a quality back-and-forth in an openminded and assertive way to see things through each other’s eyes.”

Such a back-and-forth conversation fits in seamlessly with the culture of radical transparency that Dalio advocates. This means being open about the things you disagree about, and sharing your disagreement in a considerate and constructive manner. There are number of practical things you can do to disagree thoughtfully:

Share – Share proposals, decisions, goals or meeting notes to be as transparent as possible. This way, people will have full visibility and are in a good position to have the same context. They can agree or disagree, but based on a shared understanding.

Play it back – To the person that you disagree with, describe back their perspective. This ensures that both parties are clear about what the disagreement is about, after which you can explain to the other person why you disagree or ask clarifying questions.

Two minute rule – Dalio also suggest observing a “two-minute rule” in which neither party interrupts the other. This way, both parties will have time to get all their thoughts out.

Plussing – The ‘plussing’ concept involves people including a ‘plus’ every time to comment on someone else’s work. The plus must contain a way to improve or build on the other person’s work. The simplest way to do is by including the word “and” in your feedback, attaching a better idea or suggestion.

Listening – Last but not least, ‘active listening’ sits at the heart of thoughtful disagreement. Listening actively means that you’re respecting the person that you’re talking to. You’re being open-minded to what the other person has to say, actively listening for things that might contradict your own views or assumptions.

Main learning point: Disagreeing doesn’t have to be confrontational. If done right, disagreement will lead to the best outcome as well as build a culture of trust and transparency.

Related links for further learning:


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