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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jul 1, 2022


Research shows disagreement has a negative impact on our brain function, so what can we do about that?



Welcome to episode 144 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore the impact of disagreement on our brains and how to move forward.

Our brains operate very differently where we are in agreement versus disagreement with another person.

When two people are in agreement, researchers have demonstrated harmonious patterns of brain activity, mainly focused around sensory areas such as the visual system. When we are in agreement, it’s likely we’re paying attention to social cues from the other person using our senses. We’re not having to worry too much about higher-level functions. Our brains aren’t working very hard at all.

When we’re in disagreement though, research shows our brain function shifts more towards the frontal lobe, responsible for higher-level functions like reasoning and restraint. The overall amount of brain activity also increases dramatically, using both emotional and cognitive resources. It takes a lot more conscious effort to process and work through disagreement. As a result, disagreements can wear us out.

Given disagreement takes a lot of effort, it makes sense to try to resolve it. Disagreements rarely become better with age so we want to act quickly. Here are some ways to move forward when we find ourselves in disagreement:

  1. Share your desire to resolve the disagreement or at least find a way forward. It’s important to lead with our positive intent. That will help to calm both us and the other person, so the disagreement becomes less confrontational.

  2. Ask open questions to understand the other person’s perspective. Disagreements often result from misunderstandings. Explore the other person’s views, interests, needs and wants. Be curious about their perspectives and respectful of their views. You may actually have more in common than you think.

  3. Provide insight into your own views and opinions. Be clear about what is important to you and why. If you really explore their perspective, it becomes quite natural for them to explore your perspective.

  4. Tackle the disagreement as a shared problem. I picture a disagreement as two people sitting across from each other at a table, facing off. Moving to a shared problem is like we’re both on the same side of the table, with our focus on the issue rather than each other. Here we want to focus on how we can either meet both our needs, or reach another satisfactory conclusion.

  5. If you can’t reach agreement, figure out how you can still work together. It may be that you agree to disagree. It’s rarely worth losing a work relationship over a disagreement.

So next time you have a disagreement, think about these five steps. Have a great week.



Joy Hirsch, Mark Tiede, Xian Zhang, J. Adam Noah, Alexandre Salama-Manteau, Maurice Biriotti. Interpersonal Agreement and Disagreement During Face-to-Face Dialogue: An fNIRS Investigation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2021; 14 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.606397