Explicit Disagreement is Better Than Implicit Misunderstanding

Everyone has their own rules in their heads. We interpret the situations, evaluate people's behaviors and events with these rules. Although what everyone sees is the same, understanding differs. This difference and personal rules create disagreements and unique moments. Especially in organizations, we observe that people react to any change differently. In these moments, many misunderstandings lead to conflicts that no one could've seen coming.

Many of the misunderstandings and disagreements occur because the rules in our heads are different than others. But, more importantly, or interestingly, we see our own rules as not our rules but the rules. This perception causes us not to see or understand what other people's thoughts are. We observe their behaviors and try to understand their intentions with our rules, not theirs. Also, when there is a situation, we interpret available information with the same rules. The tricky part is while our interpretation, we don't observe our behavior while observing others'. We watch everything except our behavior and interpret them with our rules, which causes many implicit misunderstandings.

Implicit misunderstandings develop when two people approach one situation in their own way. The first step to disclose this misunderstanding is not creating empathy directly but understanding what we are looking at. What's the available data in front of us? We need to make sure that we understand the data in the same way. Only then can we work on empathy and focus on understanding each other. Now you probably ask, what does it do with explicit disagreement?

The case is we rarely work like this and understand the data in front of us. We genuinely have implicit misunderstandings both in the teams and organizations and also in our private lives. We often don't even see that there is a misunderstanding. On the other side, in explicit disagreement, we disclose our own understanding of the situation and how we look at the data. When there is a direct disagreement, we can work on it. It doesn't mean that explicit disagreement won't lead to significant conflicts or be solved quickly. But, contrary to implicit misunderstandings, openly disagreeing creates a chance for us to analyze what exactly is wrong. If we invite a moderator to the conflict, it can be solvable.

I am not arguing that we should have more explicit disagreements than implicit misunderstandings. Because in some cultures, people avoid confrontation at all costs. For these cultures, things are better when they are not said. Disagreement breaks the harmony, which is the essential part of the collaboration. So in these cultures, implicit misunderstandings are better in a way, and they resolve in other ways with time.

There is one place that explicit disagreements are better than implicit misunderstandings is while exchanging feedback. Especially when we're receiving feedback, we should be sure that we understand the feedback we're getting. Misinterpretation of the feedback causes more problems. We might not acquiesce in the perception of another person, but we can fathom what they mean. Pulling the feedback and grasping the judgment and knowledge of the other person is difficult. But in that case, we shouldn't leave with confusion and false impression. The feedback we are getting should be crystal clear, and we must align on the meaning of the available data in the same way.

The complexity of group and relationship dynamics makes resolving disagreements and misunderstandings difficult. The craft is choosing not the best way but figuring out the least worst option and changing the strategy if/when it is necessary. If we are receiving feedback, we should seek an understanding of how people perceive our behaviors. Because we usually don't think about our behaviors, we concentrate on our thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Correctly analyzing the situation and finding the best strategy is difficult. But with self-awareness, curiosity, and mindfulness, we can choose the least worst one.

Short Form Last Updated: Jun 30, 2021