As I wrote in 12 Ways To Have "Beautiful" Team Meetings PLCs and School Leadership teams often struggle to find agreement in their team meetings. But, just as agreement is essential, so to is disagreement. Disagreement is often avoided at all costs in PLC or SLT meetings, but the unpleasant feeling of disagreement is sometime necessary to ensure the decisions and plans developed are the most effective they can be.
1. Do not disagree for the sake of disagreeing.
Be professional. Saying, “That’s stupid” or, “I disagree with everything you just said” is not helpful. Nobody wants to work with people who act like that. There are plenty of different ways to express disagreement politely that will move the discussion of idea forward and prevent hurt feelings, defensiveness, and unhelpful emotions.
Using phrases such as, “That is one possibility” or “I think I have some doubts about your conclusion” or “I am not sure I am following your reasoning” are polite and valid ways to express disagreement in your team meetings.
2. Do not disagree just to show how clever you are or to boost your ego.
There is nothing beneficial about trying to boost your ego at the expense of your team members. It is hurtful to them and hurtful to the process. Don’t do it.
3. When you disagree, do so politely and gently rather than rudely and aggressively.
Tone of voice is important. To politely state honest disagreement will prevent the other team member from becoming defensive and emotional. Keeping the discussion calm and focused on the idea and discussion will enable the team to stay focused on the task and remain effective.
4. You may need to disagree to point out that a fact or statement is simply wrong.
When examining student data for example, it may seem that one thing follows another, but that may not be necessarily true. You may need to point this out. For example, if one team member says that students can’t learn a certain standard, another team member may point out the teaching strategy being used is not effective for that particular standard. It’s not that students can’t learn it, it’s that the strategies being used are not appropriate for the standard.
Gently pointing out that a fact or statement is simply wrong is the appropriate thing to do.
5. You may need to point out errors of logic or to show that a conclusion does not necessarily follow from what went before.
Errors in logic need to be pointed out by team members. To allow an error in logic to be followed could lead to very negative results for students and teams.
6. You may need to point out selective perception and particular interpretations of statistics or events.
Often PLC or SLT team member may arrive at a meeting with a pre-formed idea and will look for interpretations that will affirm that pre-formed idea.
Often statistics or data can be misleading. For example, if a team member says that 50% of students were achieving at high standard do to a particular strategy being used, you might need to point out that there were only 4 students in the sample. With so few students, the 50% statistic does not reflect an accurate picture of the cause
7. Where emotions, prejudices and stereotypes appear to be used, you may want to indicate this.
If, for example, a team member states that these students can’t learn because they are English Language Learners, it would be appropriate that this stereotype is not helpful in producing effective ideas or plans.
8. You may want to disagree to show a different personal experience.
Your experience may provide you with different insight into a particular issue. It is appropriate to disagree by pointing out how your experiences differ. Stating, “My experience is not the same as yours. My experience has show that…”
9. Almost always you will want to challenge sweeping generalizations.
Sweeping generalization like “All students hate homework” or “All students love school” are not helpful and you should feel free to politely challenge the value of such statements.
10. You will want to challenge conclusions based on extreme extrapolations into the future.
Extrapolation means taking a trend forward and assuming the trend will continue in the future. For example, if a team member points out that based on current enrollment projections, there will be no need for kindergarten teachers in 5 years, you should point out that while there is some truth to the current projections, concluding that kindergarten teachers will not be needed in 5 years is an extreme extrapolation from the current trend.
11. It is very important to challenge ‘certainty’ and suggest ‘possibility’ instead.
Team members may present ideas or make suggestions with ‘certainty.’ You should feel free to suggest that you might accept the ‘possibility’ of the idea, but no willing to accept the ‘certainty’ of it.
12. Distinguish between having a different opinion and disagreeing with an opinion.
“So in disagreement you may be implying one of several things:
That is simply wrong
That is possible but not certain
That is only one of many alternatives
That fits your experience
That fits your values
That is right for you but not for me
That is based on emotions and prejudice
That is based on selective perception
The conclusion does not follow
That is one possible view of the future
Spell out the type of disagreement then explore the disagreement.