Disagreement and disrespect - the two get jumbled together often but couldn’t be more different. A difference of opinion, constructive feedback or respectful disagreements with colleagues (or even clients) shouldn’t be misconstrued as disrespect.
The reason it’s so critical to understand the distinction and practice it in our day to day, is that we won’t get the best out of ourselves (and our organisations) unless we push others and allow ourselves to be pushed. If we want nothing more than to operate in a 'safe zone' in which no one can critique work or provide contrasting POVs, then we’ll most certainly fall short of our collective potential.
There’s a reason that organisations are made up of many people with diverse backgrounds and different styles – to leverage the collective knowledge and fresh perspectives that push us all outside of our comfort zones and to apply skill sets beyond any one person.
If an organisation gets too 'soft' and just wants to get along, I’m sure it would be a wonderful place to work… for a bit, until that culture fosters an environment of mediocre work. Ultimately, the core offering of the company will suffer (and the business will decline).
So, when you break it down – disagreements, difficult conversations and respectful critiques are actually key to an organisation's growth. But this strategy will only work if during those moments, discussions remain respectful and focused on the work/deliverables, and not on the person. The goal must always be to improve the output, not to denigrate the person.
And lastly, the person whose work is being evaluated/critiqued shouldn’t take things personally. Nor should they feel disrespected because someone disagrees with their perspective – they simply have to see the situation for what it is – an opportunity to get another perspective and a chance to use feedback to improve their ideas.
I know that all of this sounds a little fluffy – and sometimes people are just jerks who need to be called out on their crap. But the times when teams are simply trying to push themselves forward by having candid conversations should be seen for what they are – opportunities to learn more, push forward and rally together.
Scott Gelber is president of Merkley+Partners