In this era of heated debates, heightened mistrust, and political polarization, the art of disagreeing effectively seems to have been lost, but it is absolutely necessary for boards to function effectively. To navigate conflict and come out stronger after difficult conversations, board and staff leaders need a few key skills.
“Disagreement is healthy,” says Mary Byers, CAE, an association governance consultant and host of the Associations Today podcast. “It’s how [people] handle the disagreement that’s crucial.”
Board disagreement that isn’t resolved properly can hamper board effectiveness moving forward. “Conflict does not age gracefully, and the longer it’s left unchecked, the harder it is to resolve,” Byers says. “The minute you see there is conflict is the minute you need to address it.”
The key to disagreeing in board interactions is to do so respectfully and with your association’s mission in mind, says Arlene A. Pietranton, Ph.D., FASAE, CAE, CEO of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
“We encourage diversity of thinking and perspective and candid challenging of information and alternative views,” Pietranton says of her work with the ASHA board. “There is an explicit expectation it is done in a respectful way. There is a healthy way to have those differing perspectives. That helps ensure there is broader thinking to make decisions.”