In my many years as an organizational consultant, I’ve seen my share of disagreements. It has run the gamut from tiffs over meeting protocols to executives duking it out in the board room over million-dollar line items.

In exceptional organizations, shared purpose is the ice cutter for moving beyond day-to-day disagreements. Working collectively toward a better world enables us to align intent, sit with uncertainty and, ultimately, reach better solutions.

Here are three tips for navigating typical workplace quarrels:

1. Decouple their solution from their intent.

The first principle of solving any problem is to separate their solution with their intent.

The head of marketing may think the best way to spend promotions dollars is to run a TV ad campaign. The head of sales may think the best way to spend promotional dollars is direct outreach to existing customers.

These two approaches spring from the same intent: reaching customers. One of the reasons we get so mired in back-and-forth disputes is because we look at the other person’s proposed solution and assume we understand their intent.

Align on a shared goal. What’s your version of success, together? Only then are you prepared to talk about solutions.

2. Sit with uncertainty.

Think about the disagreement like a triangle. People often battle back and forth across the bottom line, or they try to meet in the middle. Yet, clinging to your position destroys any possibility of innovation.

Creative solutions are found at the top of the triangle when you let go of your position. More than a watered-down version of what you both want, it’s a bigger and more powerful solution. To get there, we have to wade through the uncertainty of the “murky middle.”

Putting your solution on pause and being willing to sit with uncertainty and ambiguity opens new doors.

3. Ask questions to reach the higher solution.

When you’re working through uncertainty, questions will help you understand the other person’s true intent. Ask, “When it comes to this topic, what is your best version of the future?”

After they describe it to you, ask, “Why does that matter to you?” Now is where we’re starting to get personal. They’re revealing their personal “truths.”

Now ask them to expand the pie.

“How will that impact everyone else?”

Those three simple questions reveal the person’s true intent. They help you decouple their solution – which may be the only option they can see – from higher aspiration. These questions will show you what’s actually inside their heart.

Workplace disagreements are not entirely negative. It often means that people care enough to stand up for what they believe the best solution to be. A workplace of purpose is not immune to conflict. They just know how to handle it.

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit

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