Think back to a recent argument. Now put aside the argument itself and think about the environment that the argument happened within. Was there anything about the environment that encouraged or discouraged different fruit of disagreement to emerge?
What was the power dynamic?
What were the expectations for what had to come out of the argument?
Was there any additional hidden context that influenced the argument without making itself explicitly known (like cultural norms, shared history, the medium of communication it was happening in, the constraints of time, etc.)?
We like to think of our arguments as existing outside the context of time and space, as perfectly rational dissertations that clash and resolve based on their objective merits alone. But the physical space that disagreements occur in actually influences the voices we listen to (whom can we hear?), the dynamics of the conversation (what roles of authority are people playing?), how people participate (who is allowed to speak?), and even who participates (who is allowed in the room?).
When a disagreement sparks in a work context, with your boss, the voice of reason is probably going to speak loudest. There are formalities to disagreement in professional settings. On the other hand, when you’re out with your boss after work and getting a drink, some of that formality can fall away, opening the disagreement up to more contributions from the voice of possibility.
There are three things we should consider about the spaces where disagreements take place:
1. Ideas: Does the space encourage or discourage diverse perspectives from being shared? Which voices are most welcome in this space? Does it have any preference for conflicts of head, heart, or hand?
2. People: Is anyone able to enter and exit this space of their own free will, or are there consequences and/or restrictions in place that limit who can enter and exit?
3. Culture: How are past and present interactions in this space remembered in the future? Are there any biases that favor or disfavor…