Let’s Agree That We Disagree

Oh, hello.

It’s been a while. I haven’t posted lately. The podcast I co-host has just wrapped its 4th season. (We talk A LOT!!) But my lack of content here doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the topics that keep popping up in this blog.

Like Diversity, Inclusion (and now, adding Equity to that list!) and how those topics will destroy the world. Except, of course, they won’t.

They certainly have that potential. Ironic that these areas of focus – which are designed to bring people together – can so easily drive people apart when not done well. The devil, as always, is in the details.

I read this morning about the latest sad result of a leader trying to force collaboration (with my assumption of a DEI subtext) and the sad result: mass employee exodus. This time it is the CEO of Medium, a digital publishing company. Back in April, Medium’s CEO wrote a memo to the staff describing the conflict of discussions around culture and perspectives which devolve into “repeated interactions that are nonconstructive, cast doubt, assume bad intent, make unsubstantiated accusations, or otherwise do not contribute to a positive environment”. “These behaviors”, he pronounces, “are not tolerated.”

Well, I’m sure that will fix things. [checks notes] Nope. No, looks like that didn’t solve things. Looks like that led to a mass exodus of staff.

I’m being a little silly here. I empathize with this leader. I am assuming good intent in his memo. He is certainly not the first leader to step into this tricky space of DEI and fail hard. And I am not a part of this organization. All I know is what I’ve read about the situation. But it hits this topic that I continue to spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and (once again) writing about.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – and how to bring everyone with us on this journey.

I’ve never been a fan of the expression, “Let’s agree to disagree.” For a long time it bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on it. A few years ago, I found a better adage. The title of this post.

“Let’s agree that we disagree.”

There is a subtle but powerful difference between these two sentences. And the difference between the two is exactly the medicine we need for what ails us in these conflicts over different perspectives. It’s all about whether the statement is the beginning or the end of the discussion.

Let me say that again: it’s all about whether the statement is the beginning or the end of the discussion.

I get where Medium’s CEO is coming from. Unproductive discussions or discussions loaded with assumptions of bad intent or an unwillingness to listen to other perspectives don’t contribute to a positive environment. But if you think that saying those discussions won’t be tolerated fixes anything, I’ve got some real estate for sale. Prime location: Brooklyn. Heavily trafficked bridge… you get the idea.

That approach, illustrated by the Medium memo, is the equivalent of “Let’s agree to disagree”. It is the end of the discussion. It doesn’t solve any underlying issue. It stops any further movement with the observation that we are – figuratively speaking – miles apart. So let’s replace that with a better statement.

“Let’s agree that we disagree.”

This better statement is a starting point. It is describing where we are right now, not where we want to be. (For my continuous improvement peeps, it is the GOT in our GOT-GAP-WANT statement.) It’s an accurate representation of the status quo. But it doesn’t define where we have to stop.

If asked (which, to be fair, I wasn’t) I would suggest that the observation of these unproductive discussions serve as a starting point… for MORE discussions. Folks not onboard with these discussions about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? I absolutely accept that. Tell me more. Help me understand your perspective. I know that, the more we talk, the more likely we are to understand each other and – dare we dream? – find some common ground.

My company has been leaning in on this idea over the last few years. I’m one of our Courageous Conversations facilitators. And I’ve been preaching for this “more talk is better” approach for even longer. I believe in this approach.

So I make this commitment: if you and I are on opposite sides of this cultural debate about the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our society, let’s talk. I promise to listen to you. No preaching, no shaming. Let’s just talk. 

We agree that we disagree… is a great starting point.



Filed under Essays

2 responses to “Let’s Agree That We Disagree

  1. Mykl Sandusky

    For discussions sake, we disagree. Will you listen to me explain why you are wrong and change your mind?
    When both of us are educated, rational people it is highly likely. When one of us bases their position on dogma, they can’t be wrong and will not do so.
    It does make moving from the starting point exceedingly difficult.
    I guess this makes you the Paul and me the John,

    • I hear you – and while I don’t share your perspective, I’m happy to hear it. It does help me understand your position a bit more. I think as we understand each other more we increase the potential for that common ground. This certainly requires a good faith discussion and that isn’t a given… but it’s a start!

      As always, thanks for reading and sharing your view!

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