Do you consider yourself an agreeable person? Or do you find yourself in disagreement with others more often than not? Neither is good or bad, right or wrong. It is worth, however, being curious about how we interact with others and what motivates those interactions. How do we balance being true to ourselves, authenticity, boundaries, and self-care with compromise, kindness, and consideration of others. Have you taken time to consider when you choose to hold onto a point of view and when you surrender it for the sake of relationships?
A while back, I was listening to the Hidden Brain. On the episode The Easiest Person to Fool, his guest, Adam Grant, delved into why we hold on to beliefs and what happens if we are less certain and more curious. He discusses the high price that has been paid when people are unwilling to rethink their position – in business, science, politics, and of course, personal relationships.
The podcast also discusses the high price of both agreeability and fixed disagreeability. Some of us will compromise what we value to be agreeable. We do this to reduce conflict. We do this to be liked by people, which is a natural and necessary human instinct. Others of us won’t back down. We may not care as much about relationships as we do about our position. Obviously both of these, if too rigid, do not serve us or others. I’ve thought a lot about this podcast since then and feel the ideas are worth sharing. I encourage you to listen.
There are a few reasons why this podcast resonated with me so deeply. I can at times be an agreeable person. I can be flexible and accommodating. On the other hand, when I feel strongly about something, well, I feel strongly. I express myself strongly and I can’t seem to let go. Typically this comes from a place of deeply held values and when I try to accommodate to reduce conflict, the internal conflict eats away at me. Because of family and societal expectations from my upbringing, I can misperceive this tenacity as a character flaw. Of course, in reality it is not and in many circumstances it’s a gift. Either way it’s a part of me. I am a unique being with a unique purpose. I need to learn to work with my characteristics. I need to know myself intimately, find my purpose, care for the greater good, and lead with integrity, awareness and wisdom.
Task Conflict vs. Relationship Conflict
One lightbulb moment I experienced listening to the podcast was the discussion of this delineation between task conflict vs. relationship conflict. Task conflict, when it doesn’t become personal, can be highly useful in bringing great ideas to light. It leads to innovations, inventions, and the invitation of new perspectives.
However, task conflict can easily turn into relationship conflict. I invite you to take a moment to consider how you interact when you have a strong opinion or position. Do you share it or do you keep it to yourself? Are you more likely to share with someone who agrees or someone who disagrees? When someone disagrees, what is triggered inside you? Do you see challenges to your views as a threat to your ego? Is it possible for you to see disagreements less as wars and more as dances?
There is also a cost to agreeability. Organizational behavioral research has shown that “the absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.” When our unique ideas and perspectives are not valued, we quit sharing them, we get bored and disengage. This is as true at work as it is at home.
Rethinking our Positions Can Be Painful
The truth is, rethinking our position can be psychologically painful. We have an innate need for validation. It’s a primal instinct, a survival code. We need connection. We need people who support and love us. If we aren’t taught otherwise in our upbringing, when we have an idea that is challenged we can inaccurately believe that this is a threat to our safety and sense of security.
This really is, however, a learned behavior. If differences and our uniqueness were valued in our families of origin, we are likely to feel safe even if our ideas are being challenges. However, if we grew up in a more authoritative environment, we can see differences as a threat to our well-being. Without a deep respect for ourselves and others and the ability to let go of a right and wrong way to think, we’ll find ourselves frequently caught in relationship conflict. While we may not see it at first glance, both over-agreeability or unwillingness to rethink our positions come from a place of trying to create and maintain our sense of worth. On the other hand, when our worth is not in question, we have a higher tolerance for differences and we don’t take it personally.
You Can Learn to Trust Yourself
I’ve personally had to learn to how to work with both my deep desire to get along with people and to be “liked” and the fiery part of my personality. While I haven’t mastered it, I’ve learned to trust myself more and to gain a sense of when holding on to my views (or rethinking them) is ultimately for the best, regardless of what others think. I’ve come to realize the most rewarding relationships I have are those that can tolerate, and even value, some degree of conflict.
Learning to disagree while remaining open is an art. It is a skill worth nurturing. We can learn to stay connected to our authenticity, trust that our value is never in question (regardless of how others see us), and be willing to be known. When we can do this for ourselves, we naturally encourage others to do this as well. Two people in this place create a beautiful opportunity for intimate authentic connection.
I invite you to let this exploration be a part of your journey. Listen to the podcast. Do the work to know yourself and let yourself be known. We are here to support you!