It’s Not You, It’s the Idea

Don’t ignore the conflict. The first step is recognizing that there’s a debate to be had. When someone challenges your ideas with some of their own, it is time to engage. That doesn’t mean that you defend your ideas to the death, but ignoring debate isn’t healthy for the organization or for your career. You’ll either let yourself get steamrolled, or you’ll ignore people who want to be heard. Engaging in debate is part of being a knowledge worker.

Listen to criticism and be honest with yourself. Listen closely to people’s criticism, even when it stings. Don’t worry too much about saving face when you receive valid criticism and need to backtrack on something you’ve proposed. Just say, “You’re right,” and then figure out what to do next. On the other hand, if you truly believe the other person’s arguments are incomplete or flawed, then you’re doing the organization a disservice by not pushing for a better outcome. Take the time to internalize their feedback and weigh its merits before you act one way or the other.

Don’t take the emotional bait. People can be passionate about their ideas, and that sometimes manifests itself as passionately eviscerating your ideas. Make it a point to be the calmer person, a technique whose value I’ve written about before, albeit in a different context. Don’t take criticism of your idea personally, but if the other person crosses the line don’t be afraid to enforce decorum. You don’t have to tell someone they hurt your feelings; just say, “That was a little abrasive – let’s keep it civil.” Most people don’t want to create personal conflict, so they’ll cool it. And if they really do want conflict and are trying to be abrasive, then you’ve stood your ground and made your point without further escalating things.