Argue with your co-workers.

Not messy, ugly, cry-inducing, insult-filled arguing.

But disagree.

I laugh while I type that because it reminds me of being a kid and hearing my parents raise their voices. Any of us children might object and ask, “Why are you fighting?!” And the queries would always be answered with the same maxim: “We aren’t fighting. We are disagreeing.”

I always felt cheated by this response – like the script was being flipped, an odd adults-only sleight-of-hand. But age has informed me that this was mostly a nuanced truth. A good disagreement is like a hard day at the gym. It isn’t always enjoyable, but you leave in better shape.

Years ago, I was in a hotel parking lot listening to client complaints for a half hour via my cell phone. I just wanted to find a solution, so I could go back inside to the conference session I was missing. But when I called my co-worker to give her my idea for a fast remedy, she quickly shut me down.

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As she rattled off her dictum, I caught the word “processes” and fumed to myself, “All this person wants to do is make process after stupid process. I wish we didn’t have any processes…”

And then I realized that thought was incredibly stupid.

And then I realized why I was hired to work with this woman.

Because I would be a terrible mess of good intentions without the structure she forced me to have. And she would have had lots of structures and no contracts to fulfill by using them if I wasn’t around to soften the edges and calm down the clients.

Our bosses knew what they were doing. And after a momentary internal glimpse inside my own head of the dystopian mess that would result without my cohort there to insist on at least a little infrastructure, I was suddenly ready to listen to what she had to say and figure out a compromise.

Turns out once she understood my larger concern, she had a solution that was much better than my initial hackneyed response. But we had to push on each other a little at first to figure out the best way to win.

So it is good to disagree and challenge those next to you. But do it with respect and be ready to acknowledge when you need to take a knee. The best thing you can do in any relationship – workplace or home – is to verbalize the value the other person provides. When I can say “You are right. That is a better solution. I am glad you challenged me on that” it reassures the other person that she brings value and it makes her that much more willing to put forth the effort to ensure a thorough discourse the next time it’s needed.

I walked back into the conference that day with a smile on my face. I’m sure there was a lot of valuable knowledge being dropped in the banquet hall. But I had learned quite a bit just standing in the parking lot.

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