Authentic Work Relationships 

I have had a long career working with nonprofit and higher education organizations. During the first half of my career, I was a “whippersnapper” full of determination and energy. I said yes to everything and was optimistically agreeable. As I enter my third decade as a professional, I am content showing up as my true self and aligning my values with my work life.

I was reminded about the value of authenticity in the workplace when I listened to this month’s “Building Forward,” where our CEO Emily Barany talked to Executive Director of the Ventura County Community Foundation, Vanessa Bechtel, about her search for a Chief Operating Officer. After talking with some colleagues who knew him, Vanessa chose Jeffrey Lambert, who had spent his career in Community Development for the City of Ventura and the City of Oxnard. Vanessa knew he was capable and experienced, but she was initially drawn to him because of his integrity. After more than two years working with Jeffrey, Vanessa says she is grateful they can disagree regularly. To have a working relationship where you become invaluable because you can respectfully share your insight takes both confidence and vulnerability.

When I was the Executive Director of Brain Injury Center of Ventura County, I was fortunate to have a similar relationship with the Board chair. Although we didn’t always agree, we had a connection that allowed us to openly share our thoughts. We always discussed the pros and cons of initiatives. And not only did it lead us to have a great working relationship, but the discussions (sometimes heated) led to us figuring out the best solutions. I am grateful to feel this way again, working with Emily and the VISIONALITY team. In fact, it is part of VISIONALITY’s values to not be afraid to challenge people, to make the table bigger, and to actively listen because we recognize that we cannot all be subject matter experts, so we are committed to giving each other space to amplify those who are.

To me, disagreeing with someone is not about getting into a fight or about unkindness. It’s about how different opinions can lead to better work outcomes. Amy Gallo at the Harvard Business Review, says “By working through conflict together, you’ll feel closer to the people around you and better understand what matters to them and how they prefer to work.” I agree.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are five tips that have worked for me to respectfully engage in disagreements:

  1. Listen to the other person’s point of view.
  2. Stay calm.
  3. Don’t make it personal.
  4. Avoid criticizing the other person’s ideas and beliefs. 
  5. Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings, thoughts, and needs.

If you show respect to the other person while safeguarding your own opinions and values, disagreements can invigorate better work relations and performance. Ultimately, disagreement means conversation which can lead to a better understanding. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”